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
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 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
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:
- Aspergillosis precipitin test (to check for signs of the aspergillosis fungus)
- Chest x-ray
- Chest CT
- Sputum culture
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- PPD skin test to check for a prior tuberculosis infection
- Serum immunoglobulin electrophoresis
- Sweat test or other cystic fibrosis testing
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.
With treatment, most people can lead normal lives without major disability.
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
The risk may be reduced if lung infections are promptly treated.
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.
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.