Background: Exacerbations of non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis cause significant morbidity but there are few detailed data on their clinical course and associated physiological changes. The biology of an exacerbation has not been previously described.
Methods: This was a prospective observational cohort study of 32 outpatients with non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis conducted between August 2010 and August 2012. Patients completed a symptom diary card and measured their peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) daily. Exacerbations were defined as oral antibiotic treatment taken for a worsening of respiratory symptoms. Symptoms and peak flow at exacerbation were analysed, and further measurements including the COPD Assessment Test (CAT) and inflammatory markers were also compared to baseline values.
Results: At baseline, health status was significantly related to lung function, prognostic severity and systemic inflammation. 51 exacerbations occurred in 22 patients. Exacerbation symptoms began a median (interquartile range) of 4 (2, 7) days before treatment started and the median exacerbation duration was 16 (10, 29) days. 16% had not recovered by 35 days. At exacerbation, mean PEFR dropped by 10.6% (95% confidence interval 6.9-14.2, p < 0.001) and mean CAT score increased by 6.3 units (3.6-9.1, p = 0.001), median symptom count by 4 (2.25, 6, p < 0.001), and mean CRP by 9.0mg/L (2.3-15.8, p = 0.011). Exacerbations where PEFR fell by ≥10% were longer with more symptoms at onset.
Conclusion: Exacerbations of non-CF bronchiectasis are inflammatory events, with worsened symptoms, lung function and health status, and a prolonged recovery period. Symptom diary cards, PEFR and CAT scores are responsive to changes at exacerbation and may be useful tools for their detection and monitoring.