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How Is Bronchiectasis Diagnosed?

Your doctor may suspect 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:

  • Identify 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 (to-MOG-ra-fee) scan, or chest CT scan, is the most common test for diagnosing bronchiectasis.

This painless test creates precise pictures of your airways and other structures in your chest. A chest CT scan can show the extent and location of lung damage. This test gives more detailed pictures than a standard chest x ray.

Chest X Ray

This painless test creates pictures of the structures in your chest, such as your heart and lungs. A chest x ray can show areas of abnormal lung and thickened, irregular airway walls.

Other Tests

Your doctor may recommend other tests, such as:

  • Blood tests. These 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. Lab tests can show whether a sample of your sputum contains bacteria (such as the bacteria that cause tuberculosis) or fungi.
  • Lung function tests. These 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 for cystic fibrosis.


If your bronchiectasis doesn't respond to treatment, your doctor may recommend bronchoscopy (bron-KOS-ko-pee). 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.

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Last Updated: June 2, 2014