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Bronchiectasis is among a group of lung diseases classified as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. The disease is marked by an abnormal widening and thickening of the large airways (bronchi) of the lungs as a result of chronic inflammation and/or infection. When the airways thicken, excess mucus pools in the widened areas, leading to infection and airway obstruction. Normally, cilia – tiny hair-like structures that line airways – gently sweep back and forth to aid in the process of mucus clearance. In bronchiectasis, however, the cilia are destroyed making mucus clearance much more difficult. This leads to repeated cycles of inflammation, infection and airway obstruction typical of bronchiectasis.
Although bronchiectasis is irreversible, with treatment, symptoms can be managed and most people can live relatively normal lives.
Bronchiectasis is caused by a number of conditions including:2
Many times, the cause of bronchiectasis is unknown. These cases are coined “idiopathic” bronchiectasis.2
The most common symptom of bronchiectasis is a productive cough, meaning it brings up mucus or sputum. The cough may worsen at times, especially at night. It may be accompanied by fever, chills, night sweats, fatigue and a change in the color and consistency of mucus. When symptoms worsen like this, it’s referred to as an “exacerbation,” otherwise known as a flare-up, of bronchiectasis. Other symptoms may include:2
Symptoms of bronchiectasis usually develop, and worsen, over time.
Bronchiectasis is sometimes difficult to diagnose because symptoms of the disease mimic those of other illnesses, such as chronic bronchitis or pneumonia. The first step in making an accurate diagnosis, however, begins with a visit to the doctor for a thorough history and physical examination. Tests that may be ordered to assist your doctor in correctly diagnosing this disease include:
Goals of treatment for bronchiectasis are to control infection, promote drainage of excess mucus from the airways and prevent further complications. If you’re seeking treatment for bronchiectasis, your doctor may order any of the following medications:1
Immediate treatment of lung infections may help some people prevent bronchiectasis. Self-care plays an important part of living with the disease and you can help prevent the characteristic recurrent infections that come with the disease by:
For more information about bronchiectasis, talk to your primary care provider.
 American Lung Association. Bronchiectasis. Accessed March 27, 2018.
 American Thoracic Society. Patient Information Series: What is Bronchiectasis? Accessed March 27, 2018.
 Eldridge, Lynne, MD. What is Bronchiectasis? Last updated November 18, 2016.
 Smeltzer, Suzanne C. & Bare, Brenda, G. (1996). Brunnuer and Suddarth’s Testbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing (8th Edition). Pennsylvania, PA: Lipponcott-Raven Publishers.