Bronchiectasis | Pulmonology & Critical Care | Loyola Medicine


Overview and Facts about Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis is a rare form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This condition damages and widens the lungs’ bronchi. Widening of the lungs’ airways causes a buildup of mucus, which in turn allows bacteria to grow and leads to recurrent lung infections.

Bronchiectasis can occur in one or both lungs. Although there is no cure for bronchiectasis, it can be managed with the right treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Bronchiectasis

The following signs and symptoms of bronchiectasis typically occur due to the widened airways and buildup of mucus:

  • A persistent cough that is often worse during the morning and at night
  • Production of clear, yellow, or green mucus
  • Coughing up blood
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Pain when breathing deeply
  • Clubbing of the fingertips
  • Profound fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss

Causes and Risk Factors of Bronchiectasis

Usually, bronchiectasis is caused by repeated lung infections during childhood, and around 50 percent of cases of bronchiectasis are due to cystic fibrosis.

Bronchiectasis can also be caused by an airway obstruction, such as a foreign body, lung cancer, immune suppression caused by HIV, or primary ciliary dyskinesia, a condition that causes defects in the respiratory tract.

Tests and Diagnosis of Bronchiectasis

Your doctor will take your medical history and then perform a physical exam. Tests that aid diagnosis includes:

  • Chest X-ray, which diagnoses the condition
  • Chest CT scan, which helps assess the severity
  • Bronchoscopy, which rules out lung cancer

Treatment and Care for Bronchiectasis

The most vital step taken by a pulmonary and critical care unit when treating bronchiectasis is to identify and treat the underlying cause. If the cause is an infection, it will need to be treated and monitored. Treatment options include:

  • Chest physiotherapy or breathing exercises to clear the airways
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Antibiotics to treat any infection
  • Bronchodilators to open blocked or narrowed airways
  • Medications to thin mucus
  • Expectorants to help with coughing up mucus
  • Vaccinations to reduce the risk of respiratory infections

If the underlying cause is cystic fibrosis, treatments for cystic fibrosis can worsen bronchiectasis. Clearance of the airways and oxygen therapy can help decrease mucus buildup and improve lung function. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to remove damaged areas of the bronchus.