Bronchiectasis Complications

Bronchiectasis complications

Bronchiectasis is a chronic lung condition often overshadowed by more well-known respiratory diseases like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Yet, if not correctly diagnosed and treated, bronchiectasis can result in a cascade of serious complications that can significantly affect your patient’s quality of life.

What’s at Risk?

Graphic of inflamed airways.When the bronchial tubes in the lungs become damaged or inflamed, they lose their elastic property, leading to the accumulation of mucus and bacteria. This sticky environment becomes a breeding ground for infections, which can then spread to other parts of the respiratory system and beyond.

For this reason, recurrent lung infections are one of the most common complications of bronchiectasis. With each periodic lung infection, the lungs become more damaged, making it difficult for patients to break up mucus independently, which can continue the infection cycle.

Living with bronchiectasis is difficult for anyone, but for those with a preexisting condition, the worsening of symptoms and frequent infections can result in respiratory-related emergencies that require hospitalization.

Uncovering the Dangers of Bronchiectasis Complications

In this article, we’ll explore the potential complications that may occur in patients with bronchiectasis and those who have an overlap of bronchiectasis symptoms with another prexisting condition.

By understanding the serious nature of these complications, we can work toward early detection, proactive management, and improved outcomes for patients with bronchiectasis.

COPD and Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis and COPD can coexist, with bronchiectasis contributing to the development and progression of COPD complications. The link between the two conditions is multifaceted, but it primarily revolves around the impact of bronchiectasis on lung function and the increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Studies have shown that patients with both bronchiectasis and COPD (i.e., BCOS) experience a higher burden of symptoms¹, such as:

  • Increased breathlessness
  • Frequent acute exacerbations²
  • Higher risk of hospitalization
  • Increased mortality³

For clinicians, it may be challenging to recognize comorbidity because bronchiectasis and COPD share similar symptoms (i.e., chronic cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue). As a result, patients do not receive adequate treatment to manage their symptoms, resulting in severe complications.

Asthma and Bronchiectasis

Recently, a study published in the National Library of Medicine suggests that bronchiectasis prevalence may be higher in patients than previously suspected.4

Known as ABOS (asthma-bronchiectasis overlap syndrome), the coexistence of these two chronic lung conditions is often more difficult to diagnose, due to the similarities in symptoms, and can be much harder to manage due to delays in proper treatment.

Pneumonia and bronchiectasis

Pneumonia can have severe consequences for patients with bronchiectasis.5 The damaged bronchial tubes are more susceptible to bacterial colonization, making it easier for pneumonia-causing bacteria to enter the lungs.6

In patients with bronchiectasis, pneumonia can be more challenging to treat due to the compromised lung function and the presence of excess mucus.

Lung Abscess and Bronchiectasis

Lung abscess can develop as a complication of bronchiectasis.7 When the airways in the lungs become damaged and widened due to bronchiectasis, mucus and bacteria can accumulate and create an environment conducive to infection.

If left untreated, this can lead to the formation of a lung abscess, which is a pocket of pus within the lung tissue.

Symptoms of a lung abscess may include fever, difficulty breathing, or coughs that produce sputum.8 Treatment typically involves antibiotics and drainage of the abscess, and it’s important to seek medical attention promptly if you suspect you may have this condition.

Lung function decline and bronchiectasis

As bronchiectasis progresses, the damage to the bronchial tubes can lead to a decline in lung function. The accumulation of mucus, recurring infections, and inflammation can cause irreversible damage to the lung tissue, resulting in decreased lung capacity and impaired respiratory function.9

The decline in lung function can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, making it harder to perform daily activities.

Preventing Bronchiectasis Complications

Early detection and proactive management of bronchiectasis are essential in preventing complications. High-resolution computerized tomography (HRCT) scans are recommended by pulmonologists to properly diagnose bronchiectasis symptoms as other diagnostic tools may not detect its presence—particularly if patients are experiencing conditions with similar symptoms.

While no cure for bronchiectasis exists, various treatment options can help manage the condition and prevent complications. The primary goals of treatment include clearing mucus from the airways, controlling infections, and preserving lung function.

Treating Bronchiectasis

Airway clearance techniques, such as a high-frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO) therapy device, can help mobilize and remove mucus from the bronchial tubes.

But not all HFCWO therapy devices are the same.

Two older women discussing the benefits of The SmartVest Airway Clearance System.

Help Your Patients Outsmart Bronchiectasis Complications

The SmartVest Airway Clearance System helps your patients break the cycle of mucus buildup to reduce healthcare costs, decrease antibiotic usage, and minimize hospitalization for bronchiectasis flare-ups.10

Delivering 360°of chest coverage paired with less squeeze and more release11 during compressions, SmartVest provides patients with more BREATHING ROOM™ to perform therapy at home and with greater ease and comfort.

Help your patients breathe easier and find symptom relief with SmartVest. We offer a library of helpful resources. Visit our Clinician Resources page for prescription forms, tried and failed requirements, upcoming events, and additional outcomes information.

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[1] National Library of Medicine. “Bronchiectasis in COPD patients: more than a comorbidity?” Retreived from 

[2] National Library of Medicine. “Acute respiratory events in patients with bronchiectasis-COPD overlap syndrome: A population-based cohort study.” Retrieved from

[3] National Library of Medicine. “Bronchiectasis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Overlap Syndrome.” Retrieved from

[4] National Library of Medicine. “Does Asthma-Bronchiectasis Overlap Syndrome (ABOS) Really Exist?” Retrieved from

[5] National Library of Medicine. ” Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from

[6] Bronchiectasis News Today. “Analysis Links Pneumonia With Bronchiectasis to Less Mortality, More Infections.” Retrieved from

[7] National Library of Medicine. ” Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from

[8] Merck Manual. “Abscess in the Lungs.” Retrieved from

[9] Cleveland Clinic. “Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from

[10] Powner, J, et al. Employment of Algorithms of Care Including Chest Physiotherapy Results in Reduced Hospitalizations and Stability of Lung Function in Bronchiectasis. BMC Pulmonary Medicine, BioMed Central. 25 Apr. 2019.

[11] Pokorney J. Comparison of Oscillatory Trough Pressure Generated by High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation (HFCWO) Systems: A White Paper.