When doctors are determining a diagnosis for bronchiectasis, one of the first symptoms they may look at is a patient’s persistent cough, which often has a large amount of mucus. After that, various tests are performed to help diagnose bronchiectasis and determine its cause.

Tests for determining a bronchiectasis diagnosis

  • Blood tests will look for conditions associated with bronchiectasis and check if there is an infection.
  • A chest CT scan or X-ray will look at the structure of the lungs. The CT scan is more commonly used to diagnose bronchiectasis and is more detailed than an X-ray. It’s a painless imaging test that takes detailed pictures of the lungs and the inside of the chest. These pictures, called slices, are then computer-assembled to create three-dimensional models that will help show the size, shape, and position of the lungs and structures in the chest. Both chest CT scans and X-rays will observe areas of abnormalities in the lung and thickened, irregular airway walls.
  • A mucus sample will be tested to determine if there are bacterial infections or other microbes.
  • Lung function tests will measure the volume of air that is inhaled and exhaled, how fast it is exhaled, and how well the lungs deliver oxygen to the blood. These tests are helpful to evaluate whether there is lung damage.
  • A sweat test is conducted in order to rule out cystic fibrosis (people with cystic fibrosis have abnormally high levels of salt in their sweat). An analysis of a sweat sample can determine if cystic fibrosis is the cause of the bronchiectasis.
  • For patients whose bronchiectasis doesn’t respond to treatment, a bronchoscopy may be performed to get a video image of the inside of the patient’s airways. This procedure uses a flexible tube with a light at the end that is inserted through the nose or the mouth.

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