Background: Bronchiectasis is a condition that is characterized by the permanent dilation of bronchi with destruction of elastic and muscular components of their walls, usually due to acute or chronic infection. The cardinal symptom is a chronic productive cough.
Methods: Review of articles cited in the systematic literature search, along with others found in Ovid MEDLINE and the Cochrane Library (including the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the Cochrane Controlled Trial Register, and the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effectiveness) from 1966 through 2003.
Results/conclusions: High-resolution CT scanning of the chest is the preferred means of establishing the diagnosis of bronchiectasis. With the increasing use of antibiotics in the treatment of childhood infection in the last several decades, an increasing percentage of patients with bronchiectasis now have an underlying disorder that predisposes them to chronic or recurrent infection. These include cystic fibrosis, common variable immunodeficiency, HIV infection, primary ciliary dyskinesia, allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, and chronic Mycobacterium avium complex infection. A variety of agents have been used to improve cough effectiveness and prevent infectious exacerbations in patients with bronchiectasis, with variable results. Chest physiotherapy offers a modest benefit in increasing sputum volume, but its long-term effectiveness is unknown. Selected patients with localized idiopathic bronchiectasis that causes intolerable symptoms despite maximal medical therapy should be offered treatment with surgery. Patients with exacerbations of bronchiectasis should be given antibiotics, with the choice of agents depending on the likely causative pathogens.