Complications of bronchiectasis  

In some cases, people with bronchiectasis can develop serious complications that require emergency treatment.

Coughing up large amounts of blood

A rare, but serious, complication of bronchiectasis is coughing up large amounts of blood (the medical term for this is massive haemoptysis). This can occur when a section of one of the blood vessels supplying the lungs suddenly splits open.

Symptoms that may indicate massive haemoptysis include:

  • coughing up more than 100ml of blood in a 24-hour period – 100ml is roughly equivalent to a third of a can of drink
  • breathing difficulties – caused by blood obstructing your airways
  • feeling lightheaded, dizzy and having cold, clammy skin – caused by rapid blood loss

Massive haemoptysis is a medical emergency. If you think someone is experiencing massive haemoptysis, then call 999 for an ambulance.

A person with massive haemoptysis needs to be admitted to hospital and a tube may need to be placed into their throat to assist them with their breathing.

A procedure called a bronchial artery embolisation (BAE), carried out by specialist radiology doctors, will then be required to stop the bleeding. During a BAE, a special dye is injected into your arteries so they show up clearly on X-rays.

Then, using X-ray scans as a guide, the source of the bleeding is located and injected with tiny particles, around the size of a grain of sand, that will help clog the vessel up and stop the bleeding.

Page last reviewed: 15/06/2015

Next review due: 15/06/2017