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Bronchiectasis

Definition

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.

Alternative Names

Acquired bronchiectasis; Congenital bronchiectasis

Causes

Bronchiectasis is often caused by recurrent inflammation or infection of the airways. It most often begins in childhood as a complication from infection or inhaling a foreign object.

Cystic fibrosis causes about half of all bronchiectasis in the United States. Recurrent, severe lung infections (pneumonia, tuberculosis, fungal infections), abnormal lung defenses, and obstruction of the airways by a foreign body or tumor are some of the risk factors.

The condition can also be caused by routinely breathing in food particles while eating.

Symptoms

Symptoms often develop gradually, and may occur months or years after the event that causes the bronchiectasis.

They may include:

Exams 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:

Treatment

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.

Outlook (Prognosis)

With treatment, most people can lead normal lives without major disability.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

Prevention

The risk may be reduced if lung infections are promptly treated.

Childhood vaccinations and a yearly flu vaccine help reduce the chance of some infections. Avoiding upper respiratory infections, smoking, and pollution may also reduce your risk of infection.

Barker AF. Bronchiectasis, atelectasis, cysts, and localized lung disorders. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 90.


Review Date: 9/24/2008
Reviewed By: Benjamin Medoff, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Pulmonary and Critical Care Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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