A condition called bronchiectasis in which the airways of the lungs become dilated leading to chronic airways infection and inflammation is a common finding in patients with cystic fibrosis. However, this condition can also occur independent of cystic fibrosis. A new clinic at Baylor College of Medicine is now offering evaluation and treatment for patients with non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis.
"Bronchiectasis obstructs airflow and can make it difficult to clear the airways," said Dr. Tara Barto, assistant professor of medicine in the section of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at BCM.
There are many causes of bronchiectasis; it can be related to severe reflux disease with aspiration (reflux of liquid into the lungs), rheumatologic conditions, immune deficiencies, or alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, to name a few examples. Approximately 30 percent of the time, there is no specific cause.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, cough, mucus production and chest pain. Often times these patients are diagnosed with recurrent or chronic bronchitis (occurring multiple times per year). The condition is definitively diagnosed by a CT scan of the chest. The mainstay of therapy focuses on airway clearance strategies and suppression of infection.
"Small changes to therapy can make big changes in the life of someone who is suffering from this," said Barto.
She works with patients to customize a treatment plan to help manage the condition and prevent progression. Usually, she recommends a treatment therapy that patients must follow two times a day, which includes a combination of medications taken in a specific order to open the airways, thin out the secretion and then clear the airways. Her clinic is unique in that it is multidisciplinary with a dedicated respiratory therapist to provide education and assistance with inhaled therapies and airway clearance devices.
Barto recommends talking to your primary care physician and getting a chest x-ray before consulting with a pulmonologist.
Barto is seeing patients for this condition in her clinic on the first and third Tuesdays of the month from 1-5 p.m. For more information or to make an appointment, call (713) 798-2400.