Bronchiectasis is an irreversible and abnormal dilation in the bronchial tree that is generally caused by cycles of bronchial inflammation in addition to mucous plugging and progressive airway destruction. Although the widespread use of antibiotics has made bronchiectasis rare, conditions such as cystic fibrosis (CF), severe or protracted pneumonia, immunodeficiency, and COPD continue to cause it. The most important clinical finding is a chronic cough with copious mucopurulent sputum. Other symptoms may include dyspnea, rhinosinusitis, and hemoptysis. Physical examination reveals crackles and rhonchi on auscultation, often accompanied by wheezing. High-resolution computer tomography is the best diagnostic test and shows thickened bronchial walls, a signet-ring appearance, and “tram track” lines. Treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms and preventing exacerbations, and includes pulmonary physiotherapy and antibiotics to treat underlying infections. In rare cases, massive hemoptysis may complicate bronchiectasis and necessitate surgery or pulmonary artery embolization.
Bronchiectasis requires the combination of two important processes taking place in the bronchi: either local infection or inflammation along with either inadequate clearance of secretions, airway obstruction, or impaired host defenses. These processes result in the permanent dilation of airways.
- Pulmonary infections (i.e., bacterial, viral, fungal), especially severe or chronic infections
- Disorders of secretion clearance or mucous plugging
- Bronchial narrowing or other forms of obstruction
- Immunodeficiency (e.g., common variable immunodeficiency, hypogammaglobulinemia, )
- Chronic inflammatory diseases (e.g., , , )
- Chronic productive cough (lasting months to years) with copious mucopurulent sputum ;
- Hemoptysis: usually mild or self-limiting, but severe hemorrhage that requires embolization may occur
- Nonspecific symptoms (i.e., fatigue, weight loss, pallor due to anemia)
- Clubbing of nails (uncommon)
- Exacerbations of bronchiectasis
- Chest x-ray: best initial test
- High-resolution computer tomography (HRCT): confirmatory test
- Sputum culture and smear: to determine infectious etiology (i.e. bacteria, mycobacteria, and fungi)
- Blood tests
- Pulmonary function tests: findings consistent with obstructive pulmonary disease (i.e. ↓ FEV1/FVC ratio)
- Bronchoscopy: to visualize tumors, foreign bodies, or other lesions; may also be used in combination with bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) to obtain specimens for staining and culture
Bronchiectasis cannot be ruled out with a chest x-ray – it should be confirmed with CT!
Bronchiectasis is a permanent anatomical malformation and therefore cannot be cured. However, symptoms and advancement of the disease can be controlled. The treatment of any underlying cause is also very important.
- Bronchopulmonary hygiene and chest physiotherapy: “cupping and clapping” and postural drainage, hydration, directed cough
- Antibiotic therapy of exacerbations
- Smoking cessation
- Vaccinations (i.e. seasonal influenza vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine)
- Bronchodilators, corticosteroids, and nebulized hypertonic saline are not routinely used but may be considered, especially in patients with notable obstructive symptoms.
- Surgical resection of bronchiectatic lung or lobectomy: indicated in pulmonary hemorrhage, inviability of bronchus, and substantial sputum production in unilateral bronchiectasis
- Pulmonary artery embolization: indicated in pulmonary hemorrhage
- Lung transplantation should be considered in severe disease.
- Recurrent bronchopulmonary infections → chronic obstructive pulmonary disease → respiratory failure and
- Pulmonary hemorrhage; (massive hemoptysis)
- Lung abscess
We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.
- Primary prevention: antibiotic control of bronchial and pulmonary infections in predisposed individuals
- Secondary prevention: long-term low-dose macrolide treatment (e.g., azithromycin)