COPD and bronchiectasis are chronic conditions that damage the lungs.

Treatments and causes for each are different. COPD can cause bronchiectasis.

There are differences and similarities between COPD and bronchiectasis.

Bronchiectasis is a progressive lung condition caused by damage to bronchi (large air passages) in the lungs. With bronchiectasis, the walls of the bronchi become thickened from ongoing inflammation or infection.

People with this condition cough up a lot of mucus. Flareups of bronchiectasis are referred to as exacerbations. It will be harder to breathe during an exacerbation.

The air entering the lungs is what bronchi are designed to allow. The bronchi in the lungs can become chronically inflammatory. The scarring on the bronchial walls makes it hard to move mucus out of the lungs. It is more likely that recurring infections will occur.

Bronchiectasis occurs most often in people ages 75 and over. However, you can get this condition at any age. Having cystic fibrosis is a risk factor.

The causes of bronchiectasis are not always known. Other health conditions and infections can cause this condition. These include:

People with bronchiectasis can live their normal lives, but exacerbation periods can be challenging. The best outcomes can be achieved with diagnosis and treatment.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for a group of progressive lung diseases that include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. People with COPD may have both of these conditions simultaneously.

COPD is a disease that progresses over time. People over 40 are at the highest risk of dying from smoking. The use of tobacco products is the most common cause of this condition.

COPD causes inflammation and bronchi to grow. It can cause damage to the lungs. Difficult breathing in oxygen and carbon dioxide is what this results in. Cells produce carbon dioxide during their respiration.

According to the American Lung Association, COPD can cause long-term disability and early death, especially if untreated.

People with COPD may have trouble breathing. Flareups with more intense symptoms can also occur. COPD symptoms get worse over time.

  • wheezing
  • After a mild exertion, there is a brief breathlessness.
  • There is some tightness in the chest.
  • It is possible that chronic cough will not produce mucus.
  • swollen legs and feet.
  • extreme fatigue.

COPD and bronchiectasis are not the same condition. Both of them are progressive lung diseases. It can be hard to get air out of the lungs with both conditions. Other symptoms include breathlessness, wheezing, and coughing.

COPD is different from emphysema. Damage to the walls between the air sacs in the lungs can cause the walls to be less stretchy and less able to fill up with air. Damage to air sacs is not caused by bronchiectasis.

COPD and chronic bronchitis are different types. COPD causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchia, which can be confused with bronchiectasis. People are confused by Symptom overlap.

Bronchiectasis and COPD can occur together. This is referred to as bronchiectasis-chronic obstructive pulmonary disease overlap syndrome (BCOS). Some studies indicate that people with BCOS have poorer outcomes than people with only one condition.

One study found that people with BCOS had more incidents of acute respiratory distress than people who had COPD without bronchiectasis.

Both COPD and bronchiectasis have many symptoms in common. These include:

  • A chronic cough that produces mucus.
  • wheezing
  • fatigue
  • The breath was very thin.
  • Respiratory infections.

COPD and bronchiectasis are both chronic lung diseases that can make it difficult to breathe, but they are different. The two conditions are different.


Smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of COPD. Poor air quality and exposure to pollution can cause COPD.

Other health conditions are the cause of bronchiectasis.


There are some symptoms that are different between the two.

The bronchiectasis can cause.

  • clubbing (thickened skin under toenails or fingernails)
  • hemoptysis (coughing up blood or a mucus-blood mixture)

COPD can cause.

  • cyanosis (blue lips or fingernail beds)


Another difference between COPD and bronchiectasis is how they’re diagnosed.

COPD is a physiologic diagnosis.

  • COPD is diagnosed based on an assessment of how your lungs actually function. COPD is diagnosed through a test called spirometry, which tests how well your lungs function by measuring airflow in and out of your lungs.

A structural diagnosis is bronchiectasis.

  • Bronchiectasis is diagnosed based on how your airway, specifically the tubes that lead into your lungs called bronchi, appears on images from a CT scan. In people who have bronchiectasis, the bronchi are dilated and thickened, which narrows the airway.

Treatment for bronchiectasis is designed to prevent lung infections. These treatment options can be used.

  • Antibiotics. Antibiotics are a common, first-line treatment. Usually, antibiotics are taken orally. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may recommend intravenous antibiotics. These are given via injection.
  • Mucus-thinning medications. Mucus-thinning medications may help reduce and remove mucus. You usually inhale these medications through a nebulizer. For some people, a decongestant may also help prevent or reduce congestion.
  • Handheld airway clearance devices. Handheld airway clearance devices that you exhale into may also help break up mucus.
  • Chest physiotherapy (chest physical therapy). These therapeutic techniques may be used to loosen mucus from the lungs. To do chest physiotherapy, a physical therapist will use certain techniques, such as clapping on your chest. Electronic chest clappers you can use at home are also available that mimic the hand motions used by physical therapists.
  • Smoking cessation. If you smoke, your doctor will recommend ways that may help you quit smoking.

If you smoke, stopping will be an important part of COPD treatment. Smoking cessation can help slow the progression of your disease. Talk with your doctor about smoking cessation aids, so you can choose the best type for you.

Other treatment options for people with COPD may include:


Medications like inhaled bronchodilators and corticosteroids are commonly prescribed medications for COPD:

  • bronchodilators make it easier to breathe.
  • The drugs reduce inflammation and swelling.

If you have a disease that is very severe, your doctor may prescribe a long-acting bronchodilator for you. If your symptoms are severe, you may be prescribed steroids and a bronchodilator.

Oxygen therapy

If your blood oxygen levels are low, oxygen therapy may be used at home or in a medical setting. Oxygen therapy delivers oxygen to your respiratory system so you can breathe better. It may be delivered through a face mask or tube.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

A supervised rehabilitation program is recommended for treatment. For weeks or months, pulmonary rehabilitation can last. It is designed to teach you COPD management skills that will help you live a healthier life. These include:


“If your disease doesn’t respond to medication, surgery may be the answer. There are several types of surgery.”

  • Bullectomy. A bullectomy is done to remove large bullae (air spaces) caused by destroyed air sacs in the lungs.
  • One-way endobronchial valve implantation. During one-way endobronchial valve implantation, a valve is inserted into a bronchial tube. The valve helps air leave the lung but not re-enter.
  • Lung volume reduction surgery. During lung volume reduction surgery damaged lung tissue is removed.
  • Lung transplant. In a lung transplant, a diseased lung is removed and replaced with a healthy one.

COPD and bronchiectasis are progressive lung diseases. They are not the same condition even though they share some symptoms.

Smoking cigarettes is the main cause of COPD. Other health conditions are the cause of bronchiectasis. Both conditions can be treated with medication, lifestyle changes, and other strategies.