René Laennec, inventor of the stethoscope, first described bronchiectasis in 1819 while observing patients with tuberculosis and the sequelae of pneumonia in the pre-antibiotic era. In 1922, Jean Athanase Sicard introduced contrast bronchography, which provided imaging of the destructive changes characteristic of bronchiectasis. The term bronchiectasis is derived from the Greek bronchion, meaning windpipe, and ektasis, meaning stretched. Bronchiectasis is a pathologic term defined by the dilatation of bronchi with destruction of elastic and muscular components of their walls.
Bronchiectasis can be focal or diffuse. When bronchiectasis occurs locally it often produces recurrent cough and infectious exacerbations. When it occurs diffusely, the patient will often have additional signs and symptoms of generalized airway obstruction, reduced lung function, and may ultimately progress to respiratory failure. Bronchiectasis develops as a result of acute or chronic infection or inflammation which may also be associated with an underlying anatomic airway obstruction, or congenital disease. (see Etiology).