The problem with all the speculation about Hillary Clinton’s pneumonia – Updated by Julia Belluz on September 11, 2016, 9:48 p.m. ET

Hillary Clinton fainted at a 9/11 ceremony midday Sunday, prompting the usual wild speculation about her health status.

When her campaign finally announced that she had actually been diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, the pneumonia punditry began. Non-medical professionals of all stripes weighed in on how she should proceed, why she took so long to disclose the serious illness, and suggested medical followup.


One thing a lot of the pundits seemed to miss is that people with pneumonia can experience a wide range of symptoms, from the very mild to the deadly. It’s not even one disease: Pneumonia refers to an infection in one or both lungs, and it can be caused by a variety of organisms — bacteria, fungi, viruses, even parasites. (There are some 30 different causes of pneumonia, but the most common cause is the flu.)

The infection essentially leads to inflammation in the lungs’ air sacs, which can fill up with fluid or pus. Symptoms can include a cough, fever, fatigue, chills, loss of appetite, headache, and shortness of breath.

But the severity of pneumonia depends on many things, including the patient’s age and underlying health status. Infants and older people are most at risk of serious infection, as are those with weakened immune systems or other health complications like heart failure or COPD, and smokers.

The source of the pneumonia also affects a person’s prognosis. As the American Lung Society explains:

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