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Diagnosing bronchiectasis

If your GP thinks you have bronchiectasis, he or she will arrange some tests for you. Depending on the results of these, you may be referred to a specialist respiratory (chest) consultant.

Tests your GP may organise include:

  • Chest x-ray to exclude any other conditions
  • Sputum sample to see if there are any bacteria in your sputum
  • Blood tests to look for possible causes of bronchiectasis

If you see a specialist respiratory doctor you may have the following tests:

  • HRCT (High resolution computed tomography): this is a special type of x-ray that uses computers to make detailed images of your airways that will show if your airways are widened. This scan can confirm a diagnosis of bronchiectasis.
  • Lung function tests to see how well your lungs are working.
  • Various other tests to look for a possible cause of your bronchiectasis.

Severity of bronchiectasis

The severity of symptoms varies depending on the severity of the disease:

  • Mild disease: occasional cough producing small amounts of sputum and infrequent chest infections (less than two per year). Sputum is usually clear or light in colour.
  • Severe disease: coughing up large amounts of sputum on most days and almost permanent chest infection. Sputum is usually dark yellow, green or brown and bacteria are found in the sputum even when the person is well.
  • Most people with bronchiectasis have symptoms somewhere in between.

For more information on diagnosing bronchiectasis, see the CHSS booklet Living with Bronchiectasis (PDF).