What is chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is a long-term inflammation of the bronchi, which results in increased production of mucus, as well as other changes.

To be classified as chronic bronchitis:

  • Cough and expectoration must occur most days for at least three months per year, for two years in a row.

  • Other causes of symptoms, such as tuberculosis or other lung diseases, must be excluded.

What are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis?

The following are the most common symptoms for chronic bronchitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Symptoms may include:

  • Cough

  • Expectoration (spitting out) of mucus

Chronic bronchitis may cause:

  • Frequent and severe respiratory infections

  • Narrowing and plugging of the breathing tubes (bronchi)

  • Difficult breathing

  • Disability

Other symptoms may include:

  • Lips and skin may appear blue

  • Abnormal lung signs

  • Swelling of the feet

  • Heart failure

The symptoms of chronic bronchitis may resemble other lung conditions or medical problems. Consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What are the causes of chronic bronchitis?

In acute bronchitis, bacteria or viruses may be the cause, but in chronic bronchitis there is no specific organism recognized as the cause of the disease.

Cigarette smoking is cited as the most common contributor to chronic bronchitis, followed by:

  • Bacterial or viral infections

  • Environmental pollution (chemical fumes, dust, and other substances)

Chronic bronchitis is often associated with other pulmonary diseases such as:

  • Pulmonary emphysema

  • Pulmonary fibrosis

  • Asthma

  • Tuberculosis

  • Sinusitis

  • Upper respiratory infections

How is chronic bronchitis diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, your doctor may request the following:

  • Pulmonary function tests. Diagnostic tests that help to measure the lungs' ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with special machines that the person must breathe into, and may include the following:

    • Spirometry. A spirometer is a device used by your doctor that assesses lung function. Spirometry, the evaluation of lung function with a spirometer, is one of the simplest, most common pulmonary function tests and may be necessary for any/all of the following reasons:

      • To determine how well the lungs receive, hold, and utilize air

      • To monitor a lung disease

      • To monitor the effectiveness of treatment

      • To determine the severity of a lung disease

      • To determine whether the lung disease is restrictive (decreased airflow) or obstructive (disruption of airflow)

    • Peak flow monitoring (PFM). A device used to measure the fastest speed in which a person can blow air out of the lungs. During an asthma or other respiratory flare up, the large airways in the lungs slowly begin to narrow. This will slow the speed of air leaving the lungs and can be measured by a PFM. This measurement is very important in evaluating how well or how poorly the disease is being controlled.

  • Arterial blood gas (ABG). A blood test that is used to evaluate the lungs' ability to provide blood with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide, and to measure the pH (acidity) of the blood.

  • Pulse oximetry. An oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To obtain this measurement, a small sensor (like a Band-Aid) is taped onto a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless and the red light does not get hot.

  • X-ray. A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

What is the treatment for chronic bronchitis?

Reference: Lungs, Breathing and Respiration section on Better Medicine


Did You Know?

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease that makes it difficult to breathe.