What Is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis (bron-kee-ek’-tas-is) is a lung disease that usually results from an infection or other condition that injures the walls of the airways in your lungs. The airways are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs.

This injury is the beginning of a cycle in which your airways slowly lose their ability to clear out mucus. The mucus builds up and creates an environment in which bacteria can grow. This leads to repeated serious lung infections. Each infection causes more damage to your airways.

Over time, your airways become stretched out, flabby, and scarred. They can no longer move air in and out.

This can affect how much oxygen reaches your body organs. If your lungs cannot move enough oxygen into your body, bronchiectasis can lead to serious illness, including heart failure.

Bronchiectasis can affect just one section of one of your lungs or many sections of both lungs.

Bronchiectasis usually begins in childhood, but symptoms may not appear until months or even years after you have started having repeated lung infections.

There are two types of bronchiectasis:

Congenital bronchiectasis usually affects infants and children. It results from a problem in the development of the lungs in the fetus.
Acquired bronchiectasis occurs in adults and older children. It is more common.
Bronchiectasis cannot be cured, but with proper care, most people who have it can enjoy a good quality of life.

Bronchiectasis Fact Sheet

Bronchiectasis is an abnormal stretching and enlarging of the respiratory passages caused by mucus blockage. When the body is unable to get rid of mucus, mucus becomes stuck and accumulates in the airways. The blockage and accompanying infection cause inflammation, leading to the weakening and widening of the passages. The weakened passages can become scarred and deformed, allowing more mucus and bacteria to accumulate, resulting in a cycle of infection and blocked airways.

Bronchiectasis is one of the chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD)* and it can be complicated by emphysema and bronchitis. The disease is commonly misdiagnosed as asthma or pneumonia.
Bronchiectasis can develop at any age, begins most often in childhood, but symptoms may not be apparent until much later. Bronchiectasis can occur as part of a birth defect, such as primary ciliary dyskinesia or cystic fibrosis. About 50% of all cases of bronchiectasis in the U.S. result from cystic fibrosis. It can also develop after birth as a result of injury or other diseases, like tuberculosis, pneumonia and influenza.
There are three types of bronchiectasis that describe the severity of the condition:
Cylindrical – most common and refers to the slight widening of the respiratory passages. This type can be reversed and may be seen after acute bronchitis.
Varicose – bronchial walls have both extended and collapsed portions.
Cystic – most severe and involves irreversible ballooning of the bronchi.
Symptoms include coughing (worsened when lying down), shortness of breath, abnormal chest sounds, weakness, weight loss, and fatigue. With infections the mucus may be discolored, foul smelling and may contain blood. Symptom severity varies widely from patient to patient and occasionally, a patient is asymptomatic.
Doctors evaluate bronchiectasis with a chest x-ray, breathing tests, sputum culture or computed tomography (CT) scan. Testing for other associated diseases like cystic fibrosis or tuberculosis can also be helpful.
Bronchiectasis patients are often given antibiotics for infection and bronchodilator medicines to open passages. There are also physical therapy techniques to help clear mucus. Lung transplants are also an option for severe cases. Fatalities are uncommon but may result from massive hemorrhage.
If lung infections are treated immediately, bronchiectasis is less likely to develop. Bronchiectasis patients should avoid cigarette smoke and other irritants and refrain from using sedatives. Vaccinations against measles, influenza and other infections could also be a good preventative measure.

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