Bronchiectasis is destruction and widening of the large airways.
- If the condition is present at birth, it is called congenital bronchiectasis.
- If it develops later in life, it is called acquired bronchiectasis.
Acquired bronchiectasis; Congenital bronchiectasis
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Bronchiectasis is often caused by recurrent inflammation or infection of the airways. Sometimes it begins in childhood after a more severe lung infection or inhaling a foreign object.
Cystic fibrosis causes about a third of all bronchiectasis cases in the United States. Certain genetic conditions can also cause bronchiectasis, including primary ciliary dyskinesia and immunodeficiency syndromes.
The condition can also be caused by routinely breathing in food particles while eating.
Symptoms often develop gradually, and may occur months or years after the event that causes the bronchiectasis.
They may include:
- Bluish skin color
- Breath odor
- Chronic cough with large amounts of foul-smelling sputum
- Clubbing of fingers
- Coughing up blood
- Cough that gets worse when lying on one side
- Shortness of breath that gets worse with exercise
- Weight loss
Signs and tests
When listening to the chest with a stethoscope, the doctor may hear small clicking, bubbling, wheezing, rattling, or other sounds, usually in the lower lobes of the lungs.
Tests may include:
- Aspergillosis precipitin test (to check for signs of the aspergillosis fungus)
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin blood test
- Chest x-ray
- Chest CT
- Sputum culture
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Genetic testing, including sweat test for cystic fibrosis
- PPD skin test to check for a prior tuberculosis infection
- Serum immunoglobulin electrophoresis
Treatment is aimed at controlling infections and bronchial secretions, relieving airway obstruction, and preventing complications.
Regular, daily drainage to remove bronchial secretions is a routine part of treatment. A respiratory therapist can show the patient coughing exercises that will help.
Antibiotics, bronchodilators, and expectorants are often prescribed for infections.
Surgery to resect the lung may be needed if medicine does not work or if the patient has massive bleeding.
The outlook depends on the specific cause of the disease. With treatment, most people can lead normal lives without major disability.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if:
- Chest pain or shortness of breath gets worse
- There is a change in color or amount of the phlegm you cough up, or if it is bloody
- Other symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment
The risk may be reduced if lung infections are promptly treated.
Iseman MD, Chan ED. Bronchiectasis. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus CV, Martin TR, et al. Murray & Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 42.
Last reviewed 8/30/2012 by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc. Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
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