How will my doctor find out if I have bronchiectasis?
Your doctor may think you have bronchiectasis if you have a daily cough that produces large amounts of sputum (spit).
To find out whether you have bronchiectasis, your doctor may recommend tests to:
- Find any underlying causes that require treatment
- Rule out other causes of your symptoms
- Find out how much your airways are damaged
Diagnostic tests and procedures
Chest CT scan
A chest computed tomography (CT) scan is a painless imaging test that takes many detailed pictures, called slices, of your lungs and the inside of your chest. Computers can combine these pictures to create three-dimensional (3D) models that show the size, shape, and position of your lungs and structures in your chest.
A chest CT scan can help figure out the cause of lung symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain. It can also tell your doctor if you have certain lung problems such as a tumor, excess fluid around the lungs that is known as pleural effusion, or pneumonia. Your chest CT scan may be done in a medical imaging facility or hospital. You will lie still on a table and the table will slide into the scanner. You will hear soft buzzing or clicking sounds when you are inside the scanner and the scanner is taking pictures. You will be able to hear from and talk to the technician performing the test while you are inside the scanner. For some diagnoses, a contrast dye, often iodine-based, may be injected into a vein in your arm before the imaging test. In rare instances, some people have an allergic reaction to contrast dye. There is also a slight risk of cancer, particularly in growing children, because the test uses radiation. Although the amount of radiation from one test is usually less than the amount of radiation you are naturally exposed to over three years, patients should not receive more CT scans than what is recommended by clinical guidelines recommend.
A chest X-ray is a fast and painless imaging test to look at the structures in and around your chest. This test can help diagnose and check conditions such as pneumonia, heart failure, lung cancer, tuberculosis, sarcoidosis, and lung tissue scarring, called fibrosis. Doctors may use chest X-rays to see how well certain treatments are working and to check for complications after certain procedures or surgeries. The test may be done in the doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital. You will stand, sit, or lie still for the test. Chest X-rays have few risks. The amount of radiation used in a chest X-ray is very small. Talk to your provider if you are or could be pregnant.
Your doctor may recommend other tests.
- Blood tests can show whether you have an underlying condition that can lead to bronchiectasis. Blood tests also can show whether you have an infection or low levels of certain infection-fighting blood cells.
- A sputum culture shows whether a sample of your sputum has bacteria (such as the bacteria that cause tuberculosis) or fungi.
- Lung function tests measure how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you can breathe air out, and how well your lungs deliver oxygen to your blood. Lung function tests help show how much lung damage you have.
- A sweat test or other tests can help determine if you have cystic fibrosis.
If your bronchiectasis doesn't respond to treatment, your doctor may recommend bronchoscopy. Doctors use this procedure to look inside the airways.
During bronchoscopy, a flexible tube with a light on the end is inserted through your nose or mouth into your airways. The tube is called a bronchoscope. It provides a video image of your airways. You'll be given medicine to numb your upper airway and help you relax during the procedure.
Bronchoscopy can show whether you have a blockage in your airways. The procedure also can show the source of any bleeding in your airways.