Bronchiectasis Diagnosis

If bronchiectasis is suspected, your healthcare provider will first take a detailed family and medical history to determine whether you have an underlying lung condition that can cause bronchiectasis. Your provider may think you have bronchiectasis if you have certain symptoms, including a daily cough that produces large amounts of sputum (a mix of saliva and fluid from the lungs that may contain mucus) for at least 8 weeks. Your provider will also use one or more imaging tests for lung disease to confirm a diagnosis. 

If your provider suspects you have bronchiectasis, they may recommend tests to:

  • Find any underlying causes that require treatment
  • Rule out other causes of your symptoms
  • Understand how much your airways are damaged

Diagnostic tests and procedures

Chest X-ray

chest X-ray is a fast and painless imaging test to look at the structures in and around your chest, but it cannot detect bronchiectasis — except in extreme cases. This test can help diagnose and check conditions that may occur with or worsen bronchiectasis, such as pneumoniaheart failurelung cancer, tuberculosis, sarcoidosis, and pulmonary fibrosis (lung tissue scarring). Healthcare providers 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 healthcare provider’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.

Chest CT scan

A chest  computed tomography  (CT) scan is a key test for bronchiectasis, because it enables your healthcare provider to see what is happening in your lungs. The CT scan is able to look at your lungs in more fine detail and see where in the lungs the airways may be irritated or damaged. For a diagnosis, both images from a CT scan and clinical symptoms must be present. 

Other tests

Your healthcare provider may recommend tests for other conditions that may complicate bronchiectasis treatment.

  • A sweat test or other tests can help determine whether you have cystic fibrosis.
  • A sputum culture shows whether a sample of your sputum has  bacteria  (such as the bacteria that cause tuberculosis) or  fungi  in it. Sputum is a mixture of saliva and fluid from the lungs that may contain mucus, and deep coughing or a nebulized treatment may be needed to produce a sample.
  • 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.
  • Lung function tests measure how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you breathe, and how well your lungs deliver  oxygen  to your blood. Lung function tests help show how much lung damage you have.
  • Genetic testing or screening looks for genetic conditions that make you more susceptible to developing bronchiectasis.


If your bronchiectasis doesn’t respond to treatment, your healthcare provider may recommend bronchoscopy. Providers use this procedure to look inside the airways, check for any blockages, show the source of any bleeding in your airways, and get samples from your lower airways to see whether there are any untreated infections.

A flexible tube with a small camera and a light on the end is inserted through your nose or mouth into your airways. This tube, called a bronchoscope, provides a video image of your airways. You will be given medicine to numb your upper airway and help you relax during the procedure.

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