COPD and Bronchiectasis – Making the connection

Posted on November 09, 2021   |   
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This blog post was written by Christina Hunt, BS, RRT, Director of Bronchiectasis and NTM Research and Education at the COPD Foundation.

Many of you have probably asked yourself, “What does COPD have to do with bronchiectasis?” That’s a very good question, given the COPD Foundation’s commitment to both communities. Making the connection takes some understanding of the background of both conditions. As November is COPD Awareness Month, I thought that there would be no better time to explain the two and the desire of the COPD Foundation to create more awareness for both conditions. Let’s get into it!

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is an umbrella term used to describe chronic lung diseases including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It affects over 30 million Americans and is the third leading cause of death in the world. Symptoms of COPD include (but aren’t limited to) shortness of breath, frequent coughing (with or without mucus), wheezing, and tightness in the chest.1 There are different types of COPD. Each “version” may affect the patient differently and progress at different rates.1 Therefore, treatment these days is focused on identification of symptoms (or traits) so that medications and therapies can focus on these.2

It has been reported that between 8% and 30% of individuals with COPD also have bronchiectasis.2,3 Bronchiectasis is a condition in which patients tend to make more mucus. The mucus pools in the airways causing them to be widened and damaged.4 Bronchiectasis can be localized (affecting only a specific location in the lungs) or diffuse (affecting all of one or both lungs). Because patients with bronchiectasis have difficulty clearing mucus in their lungs, they are more likely to get an infection.4 Just like COPD, there is no cure for bronchiectasis, however there are numerous treatment options in order to combat symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

Given the similarities in symptoms and overlap among patients, if you have bronchiectasis, it may be easy to ask yourself, “Do I have COPD too?” This is an important question to ask, as establishing a primary diagnosis (whether it be COPD or bronchiectasis) is critical in making sure you get the best treatment plan. Ask your physician if you are questioning whether or not you have COPD. The treatments useful in COPD may not be widely effective in bronchiectasis and vice versa.5

To learn more about COPD and the COPD Foundation’s resources for the COPD community, click here.


  1. The COPD Foundation. What is COPD? - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - COPD Foundation. Accessed October 29, 2021.
  2. Dou S, Zheng C, Cui L, et al. High prevalence of bronchiectasis in emphysema-predominant COPD patients. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2018; 13: 2041–2047. DOI: HTTPS://DX.DOI.ORG/10.2147%2FCOPD.S163243
  3. Hurst JR, Elborn JS, De Soyza A. COPD–bronchiectasis overlap syndrome. Eur Resp J. 2015; 45: 310-313. DOI: HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1183/09031936.00170014
  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Bronchiectasis. Accessed November 5, 2021.
  5. Hurst JR, Elborn JS, De Soyza A; BRONCH-UK Consortium. COPD-bronchiectasis overlap syndrome. Eur Respir J. 2015 Feb;45(2):310-3. doi: HTTPS://DX.DOI.ORG/10.1183/09031936.00170014. PMID: 25653262.