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Learn About Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis occurs when the walls of the airways (bronchi) thicken as a result of chronic inflammation and/or infection and results in mucus accumulating.

Key Facts

  • In people with bronchiectasis, the walls of the bronchi become thickened.
  • Bacteria and other microbes often infect the lungs of people with bronchiectasis, and this leads to worsened breathing and other symptoms.
  • People with bronchiectasis have periodic flare-ups of breathing difficulties, called exacerbations.

What Is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is a chronic condition where the walls of the bronchi are thickened. This is caused by inflammation and infection in the bronchi. People with bronchiectasis will experience periods of good and bad health. The periods when your lung health gets worse are called exacerbations. Some patients with exacerbations notice a gradual decline in their health over a few weeks, while others start to have problems over the span of a few days.

How Bronchiectasis Affects Your Body

In bronchiectasis, the walls of the bronchi are thickened from long-term inflammation and scarring. As a result of the damage, mucus produced by the cells lining the bronchi does not drain normally. Mucus build-up can cause infection. A cycle of inflammation and infection can develop, leading to loss of lung function over time.

How Serious Is Bronchiectasis?

In bronchiectasis, lung function gradually declines over years. Patients with frequent exacerbations or those whose bronchi are infected by certain bacteria, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), may lose lung function at a faster rate and have more bothersome respiratory symptoms. If you have a serious bronchiectasis exacerbation, you may need to be admitted to the hospital for antibiotic treatment through an IV, other medications, or physical therapy.

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

    Page Last Updated: March 13, 2018

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