Do you have Bronchiectasis?
Bronchiectasis is a chronic condition affecting the airways inside the lungs, known as the bronchi, causing them to expand, thicken and become scarred over time. A rare disease often appearing as the result of or in tandem with other conditions, chronic bronchiectasis results in obstruction of the airways and is characterized by periodic flares called exacerbations.
Detecting and diagnosing this destructive condition can pose a challenge because of how bronchiectasis symptoms overlap with those of other lung diseases. However, by examining the constellation of symptoms and conducting the appropriate tests, physicians can determine if a patient is presenting with bronchiectasis and develop an appropriate treatment plan which may include Airway Clearance Therapies such as HFCWO Vest Therapy to help loosen chest congestion and clear mucus from the lungs.
Some patients are more likely to have symptoms of bronchiectasis than others. Risk factors for developing the disease are associated with damage to the bronchi or conditions making it difficult to clear mucus from the lungs. The risk of bronchiectasis increases with age and is twice as common in women as in men.
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.
Severe lung infections at a young age
Chronic (frequent or recurring) lung infections at any age
Diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
Severe fungal or mold allergies
Having measles in the past
Airway blockage, chest congestion, mucus in lungs
Chronic gastric reflux
Signs & Symptoms 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:
Because bronchiectasis is so often secondary to other conditions, it can be difficult to get a proper diagnosis. A doctor may not suspect the disease if a patient already presents with another ailment, so a comprehensive approach must be taken to determine if bronchiectasis is at the root of symptoms.
A patient’s medical history reveals risk factors, including family history of the disease, how long symptoms have been present, if exacerbations are occurring and whether other symptoms suggest systemic inflammation. Doctors will also listen for crackling or wheezing in the chest, check trigger points for inflammation and assess the severity of the patient’s cough as part of a thorough physical exam.
Blood tests are often conducted to rule out other conditions or detect problems known to be risk factors for or causes of lung inflammation and damage. Active infections may make inflammation worse, leading to exacerbations of bronchiectasis and worsening of symptoms.
Lung function tests measure a variety of variables associated with the different stages of bronchiectasis, such as:
Carbon monoxide transfer
Forced vital capacity
Nitric oxide levels
Total lung capacity
Low levels or restricted function in these tests give physicians an idea of how severely lung function has been impaired and whether the degree of impairment is severe enough to pinpoint bronchiectasis as the cause.
If symptoms suggest a patient is suffering from bronchiectasis, CT scan images can reveal any problems with or damage to the lung structure, helping to differentiate between bronchiectasis symptoms and those of other diseases.
Having this variety of tests available takes some of the difficulty out of the question of how to diagnose bronchiectasis. Mucus produced by patients with bronchiectasis may contain pathogens or immune cells, so collection and testing of sputum is another common test for the condition and its level of severity. Tests for genetic deficiencies, autoimmunity and immune function may also be performed. Should patients fail to respond to treatment, a bronchoscopy may be ordered to get a better look at the lung tissue and determine if the diagnosis was correct.
Learn more about Bronchiectasis
Find out more about the signs and symptoms with the AffloVest Bronchiectasis Resource Kit
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 may involve:
Antibiotics to address infections and inflammation
Medications or devices to thin mucus and clear it from the lungs
IV antibiotics for severe infections
Immunization against lung infections
Additional ways to manage Bronchiectasis