What is Bronchiectasis?

What is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is a condition in which the airways (called bronchial tubes) that branch from the trachea into each lung become widened and inflamed. Such damage limits the ability of the airways to clear bacteria and mucus from the lungs, resulting in sputum production, cough, and shortness of breath.

Causes of Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis can be congenital (present from birth) or acquired (develop as the result of a cause such as an infection). The most common causes of bronchiectasis are as follows:

  • Infections: Infections that could lead to bronchiectasis include viral infections (such as measles or influenza), bacterial infections (such as pseudomonas aeruginosa or staphylococcus aureus), mycobacterial infections (such as tuberculosis), and fungal infections (such as histoplasmosis).
  • Immune Diseases: Individuals suffering from immune deficiencies (such as antibody deficiencies) are more likely to experience recurrent lung infections, which can cause airway damage that leads to bronchiectasis.
  • Aspiration: Chronic pulmonary aspiration is the inhalation of materials from the mouth or stomach into the lungs, which could inflame the airways, leading to bronchiectasis. Aspiration may be caused by conditions such as impaired swallowing (oropharyngeal dysphagia), which may allow food or saliva into the lungs, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which occurs when the valve between the esophagus and stomach malfunctions, allowing stomach contents to flow up into the esophagus, where they could enter the lungs.
  • Autoimmune Diseases: Rheumatologic, autoimmune, or connective tissue conditions including rheumatoid arthritis or lupus could cause bronchiectasis.
  • Genetic Diseases: Conditions such as cystic fibrosis, primary ciliary dyskinesia, and alpha1 antitrypsin deficiency can cause recurrent lung infections that lead to bronchiectasis.
  • Airway Obstructions: Obstructions resulting from a growth such as a tumor or a disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) could trap mucus and infections causing airway damage the leads to bronchiectasis.

Symptoms of Bronchiectasis

The signs and symptoms of bronchiectasis may include the following:

  • Cough, which may produce mucus (in the case of infections, the mucus may be discolored, foul-smelling, and contain blood)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic sinusitis

If left untreated, symptoms may progress to include worsening shortness of breath, deteriorating quality of life, and heart failure.