Bronchiectasis (bron-kee-eck-tuh-sis) is a condition affecting the airways in the lungs that causes cough, increased mucus production, and recurrent lung infections. The symptoms are caused by abnormal widening of the airways of the lung, also known as bronchi. The cells lining the airways become inflamed and swollen. These damaged airways can no longer effectively clear mucus and bacteria from the lung. This can lead to flare-ups of cough, mucus production, and shortness of breath.
Understanding the Vicious Cycle of Bronchiectasis
Bronchiectasis is caused by one or more infections introduced into the lungs. People with bronchiectasis are more likely to get lung infections. Each lung infection can make the bronchiectasis worse. Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment of bronchiectasis is very important.
Signs & Symptoms of Bronchiectasis
Often developing gradually, symptoms of bronchiectasis may not appear for months or even years after the pre-disposing event or events. Some of the signs and symptoms of a bronchiectasis exacerbation are the same as those of acute Bronchitis and COPD making them hard to differentiate.
Studies show almost 1 in 2 COPD patients may have bronchiectasis,1 70,000 new patients each year2
Bronchiectasis can be tricky because it often presents like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), but won’t respond to COPD therapy. In fact, studies show it’s much more prevalent than what’s being diagnosed.
Patients suffering from:
- Long-term productive cough
- Recurring chest infections
- Frequent exacerbations requiring antibiotics, i.e., recurring pneumonia
- Frequent hospitalizations
…should be screened for bronchiectasis.
1. Kosmas E, et al., Bronchiectasis in Patients with COPD: An Irrelevant Imaging Finding or a Clinically Important Phenotype? CHEST 2016;150(4):894A.
2. Weycker D, et al., Prevalence and Incidence of Non-cystic Fibrosis BE Among US Adults in 2013. Chron Respir Dis 2017. Nov;14(4): 377-384.
The evaluation for bronchiectasis often includes:
- A complete medical history
- A complete physical examination
- A chest CT scan (a specialized X-ray which produces detailed slice-like pictures) of the lungs.
- Breathing tests, called pulmonary function tests. These determine the presence and severity of abnormal airflow out of the lungs.
- Specific screening or diagnostic tests for some of the possible underlying diseases that may cause bronchiectasis, based on the history and physical exam.
If symptoms suggest a patient is suffering from bronchiectasis, HRCT scan images can reveal any problems with or damage to the lung structure.