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.
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
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
Severe fungal or mold allergies
Having measles in the past
Airway blockage, chest congestion, mucus in lungs
Chronic gastric reflux
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.
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
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