OBJECTIVES: To determine the frequency of aspiration pneumonitis in nursing home residents with an initial diagnosis of pneumonia and to compare the clinical characteristics, management, and outcome of aspiration pneumonitis with those of pneumonia.
DESIGN: Retrospective chart review.
SETTING: Hospital geriatric unit for nursing home residents.
PARTICIPANTS: Nursing home residents admitted to the inpatient geriatric unit with suspected pneumonia between May 1999 and April 2001 (n = 195 episodes).
MEASUREMENTS: Aspiration events were defined as definite (witnessed or unwitnessed) or suspected. Aspiration pneumonitis was defined as symptoms/signs of lower respiratory tract infection plus a history of an aspiration event plus a lower lobe infiltrate on chest radiograph. Pneumonia was defined as symptoms/signs of lower respiratory tract infection plus an infiltrate on chest radiograph plus no history of an aspiration event.
RESULTS: The 195 episodes were stratified into three clinical groups: aspiration pneumonitis (n = 86; aspiration history/infiltrate), pneumonia (n = 43; no aspiration history/infiltrate), and an aspiration event (n = 66; aspiration history/no infiltrate). In general, symptoms, signs, and laboratory tests were not useful in distinguishing between the three groups. Survivors with aspiration pneumonitis (13/75 (17%)) or with an aspiration event (20/60 (33%)) were significantly more likely not to be treated with an antibiotic or to be treated for 1 day or less than those with pneumonia (0/41; P < .001). Excluding those not treated, significantly more patients with pneumonia (33/40 (83%)) were discharged on antibiotic treatment than those with aspiration pneumonitis (35/70 (50%)) or an aspiration event (21/51 (41%); P < .001). There was no significant difference in hospital mortality between the three clinical groups.
CONCLUSIONS: The findings of this study have implications for the diagnosis and management of suspected pneumonia in nursing home residents but require prospective validation.