Bronchiectasis linked with higher mortality in smokers regardless of lung health

Close up of a hand holding a breathing nebulizer for an older patient

Bronchiectasis, the thickening of the lung's airways due to inflammation and infection, is associated with a greater risk of death in current and former smokers, even in those without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

While smoking accounts for as many as eight out of 10 COPD-related deaths, some smokers never develop COPD and appear to have normal lung function. Using a large cohort of patients from the NHLBI-funded COPDGene study, researchers investigated if bronchiectasis was associated with higher mortality among smokers with either normal lung function or varying degrees of smoking caused-COPD, as bronchiectasis often overlaps with COPD. Compared to adults without airway thickening, those with bronchiectasis had an increased risk of death after 10 years. The increased risk was observed across different stages of COPD severity and was highest among those with smokers with healthy lungs. This suggests that mortality risk associated with bronchiectasis is not limited to having COPD.

The NHLBI-funded study appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.