Bronchoscopy is a procedure that is used to view the trachea and bronchial tubes and is used to diagnose lung disease and infection. It may also be used during the treatment of some lung conditions.
How the Test is Performed
The procedure is performed using a flexible bronchoscope. A bronchoscope is thin device, usually less than 1/2 inch wide and 2 feet long, which has a small camera on the end to allow the operator to see deep into the lungs. The bronchoscope also has a channel that can be used to pass small instruments or fluid into the airway to collect samples.
When the scope is in the area of interest the doctor will take some samples using any of the following techniques.
- Bronchoalveolar Lavage: During this procedure the physician passes saline solution through the scope and into the airway and out to the lung. The fluid is then suctioned back through the scope into a container where it can be sent to the lab for diagnostic testing.
- Transbronchial Biopsies: During this procedure a small forcep is passed through the scope into the lung and small samples of lung tissue are removed. This tissue can then be sent to the lab for diagnostic testing.
- Transbronchial Needle Aspiration: During this procedure a small needle is passed through the bronchoscope and through the bronchial wall to sample lymph node or lung tissue.
- Brush Biopsy: During this procedure a small brush is passed through the scope and into the airway where the brush can collect cells from an area of the airway wall. The brush sample can then be sent to the lab for diagnostic testing.
There are other devices that may be used during bronchoscopy. These include:
- Endobronchial Ultrasound: Using this tool, the physician can identify lymph nodes or abnormal areas of the lung using a small ultrasound probe that is attached to the end of a special bronchoscope
- Electromagnetic Navigational Bronchoscopy: Using this tool, the physician will use special equipment that allows 3D reconstruction of the bronchial tubes and development of a pathway that helps guide the physician to an area of interest in the lungs to allow for sampling.
How to Prepare for the Test
Do not eat or drink anything at least 6 hours prior to the procedure. You should not take blood thinning medication such as Coumadin or Heparin shots prior to the procedure.
You will need to arrange to have someone pick you up from the bronchoscopy recovery area and drive you home.
What to Expect Following the Test
Following the procedure, you will not have a normal gag reflex for 1-2 hours after the test. Therefore you will not be able to eat or drink during this time.
When the anesthetic wears off, your throat may be scratchy for a few days.
You will likely have an increased cough for a few days following the procedure.
You may have a low grade fever during the 24 hours following the procedure.
Why the Test is Performed
You may have a bronchoscopy to help your doctor diagnose lung problems. Your doctor will be able to inspect the bronchial tubes or take a sample of your lung tissue.
Common reasons to perform a bronchoscopy for diagnosis are:
- • Lung growth, lymph node, atelectasis, or other changes seen on an x-ray or other imaging test
- Suspected interstitial lung disease
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
- Possible foreign object in the airway
- Cough that has lasted more than 3 months without any other explanation
- Infections in the lungs and bronchi that cannot be diagnosed any other way or need a certain type of diagnosis
- Inhaled toxic gas or chemical
- To diagnose a lung rejection after a lung transplant
The physician will go through in the detail the risks associated with bronchoscopy. In general, this procedure is very safe and associated with complications very rarely.
The main risks from bronchoscopy are:
- Bleeding from biopsy sites
- Pneumothorax is when a small hole is created in the lining of the lung