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Chronic Bronchitis

Affecting millions of Americans each year, chronic bronchitis is a common type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in which the air passages in the lungs — the bronchi — are repeatedly inflamed, leading to scarring of the bronchi walls. As a result, excessive amounts of sticky mucus are produced and fill the bronchial tubes, which become thickened, impeding normal airflow through the lungs.

Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for developing chronic bronchitis. Over 90 percent of patients with chronic bronchitis have a smoking history, although only 15 percent of all cigarette smokers are ultimately diagnosed with some type of COPD, such as chronic bronchitis.

People with chronic bronchitis develop a persistent mucus-producing cough that is present most days of the month, or for three months of the year for two successive years. Other symptoms include frequent clearing of the throat and shortness of breath.

In making a diagnosis of chronic bronchitis, your doctor will begin by conducting a thorough physical examination, recording your medical history and asking about any symptoms you are experiencing.

The following tests may then be conducted to make a definite diagnosis:

  • Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT) — This test involves a series of breathing maneuvers that measure the airflow and volume of air in your lungs. This allows your doctor to objectively assess the function of your lungs.
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The goal of therapy for chronic bronchitis is to relieve symptoms, prevent complications and slow the progression of the disease. Quitting smoking is also essential for patients with chronic bronchitis, since continuing to use tobacco will only further damage the lungs. Our Tobacco Education Center offers classes as well as individual consultations with doctors trained in treating tobacco addiction. We help smokers maximize the likelihood of success in their efforts to quit.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

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UCSF Clinics & Centers

Pulmonology

Pulmonary Practice at Parnassus
400 Parnassus Ave., Fifth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143-0359
Phone: (415) 353-2961
Fax: (415) 353-2568
Appointment information