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Key Facts

  • Bronchiectasis is a condition where the lung’s bronchi become permanently damaged and widened.
  • Bronchiectasis affects 350,000 to 500,000 people in the United States. The risk of developing bronchiectasis increases with age.
  • Bronchiectasis is more common in women than in men.
  • There are many causes of bronchiectasis, but about 40% of cases the cause is unknown. This is called “idiopathic bronchiectasis.”
  • People with bronchiectasis lead relatively normal lives, though they may have periodic flare-ups.

How Bronchiectasis Affects Your Body

When you breathe, air travels within your lungs through airways called bronchi. Bronchiectasis describes the condition when the airway walls (bronchi) become irreversibly thickened and damaged. As more walls become scarred, the bronchi are no longer able to effectively drain normal secretions, so mucus builds up and becomes a breeding ground for germs. This creates a vicious cycle of inflammation and infection that eventually forms irregular airway pockets, leading to loss of lung function over time. The condition may occur throughout the lung or only in certain airways. The more widespread the damage, the more serious the disease.

What Causes Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is often brought on by damage from another condition that affects the lungs. Even an airway blockage, like a growth or a noncancerous tumor, can lead to bronchiectasis. Though it is most often linked to cystic fibrosis, many other conditions can trigger bronchiectasis such as:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Immunodeficiency disorders, such as HIV or diabetes
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency which can cause COPD in some people
  • Diseases that affect the cilia, the small, hair-like structures that line your airways and whose main function is to clear mucus
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis
  • Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis which is a type of allergic lung inflammation of the airways
  • Chronic pulmonary aspiration, problems with swallowing that causes food or fluids to get into the lungs and leads to inflamed airways

Recurring infections that can cause damage to the airway walls include:

Page last updated: April 17, 2020

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