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Bronchiectasis2019-02-27T20:58:42+00:00

Bronchiectasis

Understanding the Vicious Cycle of Bronchciectasis

Bronchiectasis (bron-kee-eck-tuh-sis) is 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 mucous and bacteria from the lung. This can lead to flare-ups of cough, mucus production, and shortness of breath.

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.

Types of Bronchiectasis

Many symptoms of bronchiectasis are similar to the constellation of lung conditions known as COPD, resulting in some patients being misdiagnosed. This makes testing an important part of the diagnostic process, allowing other conditions to be ruled out, and bronchiectasis to be properly treated.

The disease presents in three forms, each with its own characteristics:

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.

bronchiectasis airways

Symptoms of bronchiectasis  include:

  • daily productive cough (produces mucus)
  • recurring chest infections
  • shortness of breath
  • frequent exacerbations (flare ups) and hospitalizations
  • fever and/or chills during flare-ups
  • unintentional weight loss

Risk Factors

Having low or compromised immune function can also put patients at a higher risk for bronchiectasis. Certain genetic deficiencies and inherited diseases may inhibit lung function, increasing the chances of developing infections or chronic inflammation. Doctors should be aware of these high-risk groups and advise patients with one or more risk factors to monitor their health for known symptoms of bronchial inflammation and damage.

  • Whooping cough

  • Severe lung infections at a young age

  • Chronic (frequent or recurring) lung infections at any age

  • Rheumatologic diseases

  • Diagnosed with COPD

  • Severe fungal or mold allergies

  • Having measles in the past

  • Airway blockage, chest congestion, mucus in lungs

  • Chronic gastric reflux

Diagnosing Bronchiectasis

The first step in diagnosing bronchiectasis is a thorough evaluation. Your doctor may have you do a number of tests to evaluate your breathing. A multiple step process usually leads to the diagnosis of bronchiectasis. Many factors are considered.

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.

Your doctor may choose to have you seen by a specialist, such as a pulmonologist (lung specialist) to confirm a diagnosis and treat you bronchiectasis once it is diagnosed.

If symptoms suggest a patient is suffering from bronchiectasis, HRCT scan images can reveal any problems with or damage to the lung structure, helping to differentiate between bronchiectasis symptoms and those of other diseases.

Bronchiectasis HRCT scan

Managing Symptoms of Bronchiectasis

Patients diagnosed with bronchiectasis face many challenges, but a well-rounded treatment plan incorporating medical interventions, periodic testing and self-care helps manage the symptoms of this chronic disease.

As with any condition, education is a key part of treatment. Patients must work with their doctors to gain a better understanding of how bronchiectasis can impact daily activities and what lifestyle changes are needed to prevent the associated lung damage from getting worse.

One or more of these treatments may be necessary to control bronchiectasis symptoms and ensure infections don’t contribute to inflammation. Some tests used for diagnosis should be repeated during treatment to monitor potential progression of lung damage. With proper treatment, bronchiectasis is much less likely to get worse.

Medical treatments for symptoms include:

  • Antibiotics to address infections and inflammation

  • Medications to thin mucus

  • Airway clearance therapy to clear mucusfrom the lungs

  • Immunization against lung infections

  • Oxygen therapy

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