Skip to content

Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Font Size

Bronchiectasis - Topic Overview

What is bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis (say "brawn-kee-ECK-tuh-sus") is a lung problem in which the breathing tubes (airways) in the lungs are stretched and become larger.

It starts when your airways are damaged. The damage may be caused by another health problem—usually cystic fibrosis—or a lung infection such as pneumonia or tuberculosis. Other causes include whooping cough and autoimmune problems, such as AIDS. Bronchiectasis can also be congenital, which means you were born with it.

Recommended Related to Lung Disease/Respiratory Problems

Mesothelioma: Tests, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Mesothelioma is cancer of the mesothelium, a protective membrane that lines many of the body's internal organs. Most often, mesothelioma occurs in the lining of the lungs, called the pleura. Mesothelioma is most often diagnosed after a patient sees a doctor because of symptoms such as pain in the lower back, shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss, abdominal pain and/or swelling. But symptoms alone will not tell your doctor if you have mesothelioma. A medical history, physical exam, and diagnostic...

Read the Mesothelioma: Tests, Diagnosis, and Treatments article > >

The damaged airways have a hard time getting rid of mucus (sputum), so the mucus builds up. This causes the airways to stretch and can lead to swelling and repeated infections.

Each time you get an infection, your airways are further damaged. It may become harder and harder to breathe.

Even though there's no cure for the disease, there are things you can do at home to manage your symptoms and live a full life.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are different for everyone. But common symptoms include:

  • A cough that brings up mucus.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest pain that is sudden and stabbing. It may get worse when you breathe in. The pain may spread to the shoulder or the belly.
  • Clubbing. The ends of the fingers and toes swell and the nails bulge outward. The nails wrap around the fingers or toes and look raised, curved, and shiny.

How is bronchiectasis diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose bronchiectasis by giving you a physical exam and doing some medical tests.

If you have a cough every day that produces mucus, your doctor may want to do a chest CT scan. Other tests your doctor may do include blood tests to look for infection, a test to find bacteria in your mucus, and tests to measure how well your lungs are working (lung function).

How is it treated?

Bronchiectasis is treated with antibiotics, medicines to relax the airways (bronchodilators), and medicines to make it easier to cough up mucus (expectorants).

Your doctor may teach you airway clearance techniques to help you cough up mucus.

  • In postural drainage, you move your body into different positions to help drain fluid from the lungs. This helps to ease breathing and prevent infections.
  • In chest percussion, you clap your chest with a cupped hand to vibrate the airways in the lungs. The vibration helps you cough up mucus.
  • Your doctor may give you an airway clearance device, such as a flutter valve to help remove mucus from the lungs.

If the bronchiectasis is severe, you may need oxygen therapy or surgery.

    1|2
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    man coughing
    You may not even know you have it.
    blood clot
    Signs of this potentially fatal complication.
     
    man coughing
    When a cold becomes bronchitis.
    human lungs
    Causes behind painful breathing, fluid buildup.
     

    chest x-ray
    Slideshow
    Bronchitis Overview
    SLIDESHOW
     
    Copd Myth Fact Quiz
    QUIZ
    Energy Boosting Foods
    SLIDESHOW
     

    Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

    It's nothing to sneeze at.

    Loading ...

    Sending your email...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    lungs
    Article
    smokestacks
    Article
     
    woman coughing
    Article
    Lung xray and caduceus
    Article