What is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is a lung condition where the walls of the bronchi, which are the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs, are scarred, thickened, and widened. Since the airways are scarred, they can’t move secretions effectively and mucus accumulates in the lungs and becomes a perfect environment for infections. Infections and inflammation lead to more scarring of the airways; therefore it becomes a cycle. Over time lung function can be lost. Bronchiectasis is mostly linked to cystic fibrosis but it can be caused by other conditions such as COPD, chronic pulmonary aspirations, autoimmune disorders, or even HIV. 

What are the symptoms of Bronchiectasis?

Signs and symptoms usually not appear until months or even years of having the condition and repeated lung infections. The most common symptoms are:

  • Cough
  • Large amounts of phlegm 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing 
  • Chest pain
  • Clubbing of the fingernails

What are the complications of Bronchiectasis?

  • Respiratory failure: this happens when there is no enough oxygen passing from the lungs into the blood
  • Atelectasis: this happens when one or more areas of the lung collapse and can’t inflate 
  • Heart failure: when very severe it can’t lead to your heart not being able to pump enough blood 

How is Bronchiectasis diagnosed?

Bronchiectasis can be suspected based on a chronic cough accompanied by a lot of mucus excretion. A chest x-ray or chest CT scan can be ordered to check the structures in your chest and if they are damaged. Sputum (spit) culture can be done to check for underlying bacteria causing chronic lung infections. A pulmonary function test can also be obtained to observe how much lung damage you have. 

What are the differential diagnoses of Bronchiectasis?

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Asthma
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) 

How is Bronchiectasis treated?

The first thing is to treat any underlying conditions causing bronchiectasis. Maintaining good hydration to aid in mucus removal is always recommended. Surgery can be performed if the condition is isolated to one section of the lungs. Medications such as expectorants, antibiotics, and mucus-thinning drugs are usually ordered. Chest physical therapy can also be an option. During this practice, chest percussion is performed to help loosen up the mucus. A vibrating vest can also be used as an alternative option. For more information about this condition please visit this website.

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