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Bronchitis

What Are The Symptoms Of Bronchitis?

Last modified: 
20/03/2012 - 17:07

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

The symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:

  • Coughing and/or coughing up sputum with chest pain
  • Yellow or green phlegm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased cough

How Is The Diagnosis Made?

Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed if these symptoms have lasted for at least three consecutive months during two consecutive years, or for six months in one year.

In the early stages of chronic bronchitis, a cough usually occurs in the morning. As the disease gets worse, coughing continues throughout the day.

Chronic bronchitis is suspected when a person experiences coughing with sputum on most days for at least three months a year for a minimum of two years. Tests for bronchitis include:

History And Physical Exam

A doctor will ask about your medical history, including information on past and present smoking. The doctor will ask about your endurance by questioning whether you have trouble climbing stairs or the distance you can walk without getting winded. The doctor also will ask about exposure to any industrial pollutants.

The doctor will perform a simple examination of your chest area. Using a stethoscope, he or she will listen to your breathing for signs of disease and will tap your chest to listen for certain sounds.

Lung Function Tests

The best tests for confirming the presence and severity of lung disease are called pulmonary function tests (PFT). Among the most common PFTs are:

  • Spirometry - A spirometer is an instrument that measures the air taken into and exhaled from the lungs. The test measures the volume of air the lungs can hold, and how well the lungs exhale air.
  • Peak flow meter - This device measures the peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), or the maximum amount of air a person can breathe out during a forced exhalation.

Nice To Know:

For spirometry, the physician is interested in two important values:

  1. The vital capacity (VC) or the maximum volume of air that can be inhaled or exhaled
  2. Forced expiratory volume (FEV1), or the maximum volume of air expired in one second

These tests can be normal in bronchitis but frequently are diminished, particularly FEV1, which should be interpreted as indicating airway obstruction.

Other Tests

Other tests that may be performed include:

  • chest x-ray may be suggested to check for other problems such as pneumonia. Changes in x-rays tend to be mild in chronic bronchitis.
  • Since chronic bronchitis is a disease that impacts how well the lungs do their job, a doctor may request an arterial blood gas (ABG) test to determine the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. This procedure involves drawing blood from an artery, which may cause more discomfort than drawing blood from a vein. A blood gas analysis that shows very low oxygen levels is useful for determining who would benefit from oxygen therapy.

Additional tests may be necessary if the doctor suspects other medical problems. For example, if an infection is suspected, blood and sputum tests and cultures may be conducted to find the cause of infection.

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Bronchitis

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.