Bronchiectasis Symptoms and Diagnosis

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchiectasis?

Symptoms of bronchiectasis can take months or years to develop, and gradually become worse. The two primary symptoms are a cough and daily production of mucus (sputum). Other symptoms typically include:

  • Coughing up yellow or green mucus daily
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse during flare-ups
  • Fatigue, feeling run-down or tired
  • Fevers and/or chills
  • Wheezing or whistling sound while you breathe
  • Coughing up blood or mucus mixed with blood, a condition called hemoptysis
  • Chest pain from increased effort to breathe
  • Clubbing, or the thickening of the skin under nails

How Is Bronchiectasis Diagnosed?

Bronchiectasis is an under-diagnosed condition. If it is suspected, your doctor will first require a detailed family history and blood tests to determine whether you may have an underlying condition that could cause bronchiectasis. These blood tests can also tell your doctor if you have low levels of infection-fighting blood cells.

Because it is a lung disease, your physician will also want to test your lung function. They will start by listening to your lungs to check for blockages and abnormalities. Lung function tests can determine how well your lungs are working. Additionally, a sputum culture can tell your doctor if bacteria is in your lungs.

Once they rule out other causes for your symptoms, the most common way to diagnose bronchiectasis is with a chest X-ray or CT scan. Both tests create detailed images of your lungs, heart or airways and give you doctor a full picture of your situation.

In severe cases when bronchiectasis isn’t responding to treatment, doctors may recommend a bronchoscopy. This flexible, narrow tube is inserted into the airways to help find blockages and sources of infection.

When to See Your Doctor

It is important for patients who have been diagnosed with bronchiectasis to see their doctor for periodic checkups. See questions to ask your doctor.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: November 17, 2022

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