Bronchiectasis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in which mucus accumulates and sticks in the airways of the lungs, called bronchi. As a result, the airways become infected and inflamed, eventually leading to enlarged and weak airways, which allows more mucus and bacteria to accumulate.

Bronchiectasis most often affects children, although people of all ages are diagnosed with the condition. It can be caused by lung injury from other conditions, including cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, pneumonia and immunodeficiency disorders, such as HIV and AIDS.

Symptoms of bronchiectasis vary for each person and in rare cases, a patient may not experience any symptoms at all. However, common symptoms may include:

  • Cough, which worsens when lying down
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abnormal chest sounds
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Discolored or foul smelling mucus, or mucus that contains blood

In making a diagnosis of bronchiectasis, your doctor will first start 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.
  • High Resolution Computed Tomography (HRCT) — This is a special type of CT scan that provides your doctor with high-resolution images of your lungs. Having a HRCT is no different than having a regular CT scan; they both are performed on an open-air table and take only a few minutes.
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The goal of treatment for bronchiectasis is to treat any underlying conditions causing lung injury, help remove mucus from the lungs and prevent further complications.

Treatment may include:

  • Bronchodilator Medications — Inhaled as aerosol sprays or taken orally, bronchodilator medications may help to relieve symptoms of bronchiectasis by relaxing and opening the air passages in the lungs.
  • Steroids — Inhaled as an aerosol spray, steroids can help relieve symptoms of bronchiectasis. Over time, however, inhaled steroids can cause side effects, such as weakened bones, high blood pressure, diabetes and cataracts. It is important to discuss these side effects with your doctor before using steroids.
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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.