Diagnosing bronchiectasis

If your GP thinks you have bronchiectasis, some tests will be arranged for you.

Tests your GP may organise include:

  • A chest x-ray to exclude any other conditions
  • A sputum sample to see if it contains any bacteria
  • Blood tests to look for possible causes of bronchiectasis

Depending on the test results, you may be referred to a specialist respiratory (chest) consultant. The consultant may arrange additional tests including:

  • A high resolution computed tomography (HRCT) scan - this is a special type of x-ray that uses computers to make detailed images of your airways to show if they 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. The colour chart on the right is used by some doctors to help determine disease severity.

  • 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 mild and severe.


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