It is common to have a variety of tests when you have been diagnosed with bronchiectasis. Health care providers want to see how much of your lungs are affected by the condition and how well your lungs function. To learn these things, you may be asked to complete some tests. The following is a list of tests and procedures commonly ordered for those with bronchiectasis.
High-Resolution CT Scan (HRCT)- Typically, if you have been diagnosed with bronchiectasis, you have had an HRCT scan of the chest. A high-resolution CT scan is the gold standard for diagnosing bronchiectasis.1 This type of X-ray takes “slice-like” pictures of your chest to get a detailed view of the lungs. After taking the images, your health care team can measure the location and amount of bronchiectasis in the lungs. They can also see where mucus may be collecting in the airways.
Pulmonary Function Test (PFT)- Pulmonary function tests are different breathing tests administered by specially trained respiratory therapists or other health care providers. PFTs measure how well your lungs function. You may be coached by the person giving the PFT to take deep breaths and blow out your air when they tell you to. These tests are painless, but they may cause some breathlessness and/or make you feel tired. Once the testing is finished, your health care team will review the results and be able to tell you how well your lungs are working.
Sputum Culture- Because those with bronchiectasis tend to have a lot of mucus, they are at risk for developing lung infections. From time to time your doctor may want a sample of your mucus for testing. The mucus should come from your lungs, and you should avoid spitting saliva in the cup. If you have difficulty getting a sputum sample for testing, you should notify your health care team. Once you can cough up a sample, it will go to a lab where it will be tested. Your health care team will review the results of your sputum culture and will be able to prescribe a specific medicine that might treat bacteria and other germs that grew from the sample.
Bronchoscopy- Sometimes your health care provider may want to see what your lungs look like on the inside. This is done by using a bronchoscope. A bronchoscope is a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end. It can be put into your lungs to look at the health of the airways and signs of lung irritation from mucus plugging. A bronchoscope can also be used to collect samples of mucus and lung tissue for testing.
For more information on diagnostic tests related to bronchiectasis and NTM lung disease, I invite you to visit the Diagnostic Testing and Evaluation webpage on Bronchiectasis and NTM 360.
1. Chalmers JD, Sethi S. Raising awareness of bronchiectasis in primary care: overview of diagnosis and management strategies in adults. NPJ Prim Care Respir Med. 2017;27(1):18. Published 2017 Mar 13. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41533-017-0019-9