Bronchiectasis: Why it Matters to Your Health

Bronchiectasis is a lung disease that causes a frequent cough, usually with thick, sticky mucus, shortness of breath, and other symptoms. In people with this condition, the airways, or branching tubes that carry air to the lungs, are wider than normal. Although bronchiectasis is an uncommon disease, its symptoms are similar to other lung conditions, and it is important to know the major differences in diagnosing and treating this disease.

BCBSTX partners with the American Lung Association to increase awareness of issues and topics affecting lung health. Dr. Ruby Abrol, a physician with the American Lung Association in Texas, provides her expert advice about a specific lung condition, bronchiectasis, in the following post.

Bronchiectasis affects 110,000 Americans and is more common in individuals over the age of 60. With this disease, there is an increase in mucus production in the airways. Because bronchiectasis causes the airways to be wider than normal, it is harder to cough up all of the mucus in the lungs. Therefore, mucus stays in the lungs for extended periods of time and is more likely to cause lung infections or bronchitis.

Bronchiectasis can be caused by many things, including infections or problems with the body's infection-fighting system and diseases such as cystic fibrosis and pneumonia.

Symptoms of bronchiectasis can include a long-lasting cough with sticky mucus, wheezing or noisy breathing, difficulty breathing, frequent lung infections or bronchitis, and a cough that brings up blood.

Your doctor and healthcare team will use some tests to diagnose bronchiectasis and to make sure it is not another disease with similar symptoms. Some of these tests include taking samples of blood to check for causes or infections, testing samples of sputum, imaging tests like CT scans to take a closer look at parts of your lungs and airways, and breathing tests to check how your lungs are holding air. If you are coughing up blood, your doctor may perform a test called "bronchoscopy," where he or she will use a thin tube to take pictures of your airways and find where the blood is coming from.

It is always very important to take good care of your lung health--and even more important if you have any lung conditions. People with bronchiectasis may have repeat infections of the lungs and end up going to the emergency department and being admitted to the hospital. If you are diagnosed with bronchiectasis, it is essential to keep your doctor and health care team informed of any sudden change in symptoms, including coughing up blood, new chest pain or a fever.

Taking the medicines prescribed to you exactly how your doctor explained is key. These medications will be used to treat infections, thin out the mucus in your airways and decrease swelling inside the airways. In some cases, your doctor may decide that surgery will give you more relief. It is always important to ask questions and take notes of your doctor’s advice.

If you have been diagnosed with bronchiectasis, there are many things you can do to protect your lungs. If you smoke, the most important thing you can do is to stop smoking. Quitting can slow down the progress of the disease and make you feel better. Another important thing is to not miss appointments with your doctor and to make sure that you get flu and pneumonia vaccinations.

Always know that your doctor and health care team, your health care plan and the American Lung Association are there for you to answer any questions. For more information about bronchiectasis, visit Lung.org. Or, if you would like to speak with a respiratory therapist or a registered nurse with the American Lung Association, please call our toll-free Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNGUSA. Translational services are available for most major languages.

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