Diagnosis of Bronchiectasis

Understanding How Bronchiectasis is Diagnosed

Bronchiectasis is among a group of lung disorders classified as COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A diagnosis of bronchiectasis is sometimes difficult to make, as bronchiectasis symptoms are often mistaken for other lung disorders, such as chronic bronchitis, asthma or pneumonia.

If your doctor suspects a diagnosis of bronchiectasis, the following tests may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis:

History and Physical

Doctor listening to man breathing in doctors office
Getty Images/Martin Barraud

The first thing that your doctor is likely to do is take a thorough history and perform a physical examination. This includes asking questions about your health history and environmental exposures to airway irritants, such as cigarette smoke, air pollution and workplace exposure to chemicals and other airway irritants. A head to toe assessment will include listening to your lungs with a stethoscope, and examining your chest wall for abnormalities.

Pulmonary Function Tests

Senior woman using a peak flow meter
Getty Images/Science Photo Library

Pulmonary function tests help your doctor assess your lung function and determine the amount of damage present in your lungs. There are three types of pulmonary function tests helpful in making a diagnosis of bronchiectasis and other types of COPD:

Chest X-Ray

Chest X-Ray
Chest X-Ray. Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user Ian Waldi

Generally speaking, abnormalities in the lungs due to COPD do not show up until the damage is severe. So, while a chest X-ray does not provide a definitive diagnosis of bronchiectasis or other forms of COPD, it does help support one.

Chest CT

CT Scan
Patient Getting a CT Scan. Photo courtesy of Istockphoto.com, user Joel Johndro

Although not routine practice in the diagnosis of bronchiectasis, your doctor may order a chest CT if you've had a change in symptoms, an infection is not resolving, or you are getting ready for surgery.

Sputum Culture

Sputum Culture
Sputum Culture. Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user Keith Brofsky

People with bronchiectasis are prone to frequent lung infections. A sputum culture helps identify specific bacteria in the mucus, which can lead to more efficient treatment.

Testing for Associated Conditions

Tuberculin-Infected Lung Under Microscope
Microscopic Image of Tuberculin-Infected Lung. Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user Photodisc

Before reaching a diagnosis of bronchiectasis, your doctor may also test you for associated conditions, such as cystic fibrosis or tuberculosis. This will help rule out, or confirm, a diagnosis of bronchiectasis.

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