David R. Duhamel1, Jeff B. Hales2
1Director of Pulmonary Special Procedures and the Lung Cancer Center, Virginia Hospital Center, 2Chief, Division of Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Virginia Hospital Center
Bronchial thermoplasty is a non-drug procedure for severe persistent asthma that delivers thermal energy to the airway wall in a precisely controlled manner to reduce excessive airway smooth muscle. Reducing airway smooth muscle decreases the ability of the airways to constrict, thereby reducing the frequency of asthma attacks. Bronchial thermoplasty is delivered by the Alair System and is performed in three outpatient procedure visits, each scheduled approximately three weeks apart. The first procedure treats the airways of the right lower lobe, the second treats the airways of the left lower lobe and the third and final procedure treats the airways in both upper lobes. After all three procedures are performed the bronchial thermoplasty treatment is complete.
Bronchial thermoplasty is performed during bronchoscopy with the patient under moderate sedation. All accessible airways distal to the mainstem bronchi between 3 and 10 mm in diameter, with the exception of the right middle lobe, are treated under bronchoscopic visualization. Contiguous and non-overlapping activations of the device are used, moving from distal to proximal along the length of the airway, and systematically from airway to airway as described previously. Although conceptually straightforward, the actual execution of bronchial thermoplasty is quite intricate and procedural duration for the treatment of a single lobe is often substantially longer than encountered during routine bronchoscopy. As such, bronchial thermoplasty should be considered a complex interventional bronchoscopy and is intended for the experienced bronchoscopist. Optimal patient management is critical in any such complex and longer duration bronchoscopic procedure. This article discusses the importance of careful patient selection, patient preparation, patient management, procedure duration, postoperative care and follow-up to ensure that bronchial thermoplasty is performed safely.
Bronchial thermoplasty is expected to complement asthma maintenance medications by providing long-lasting asthma control and improving asthma-related quality of life of patients with severe asthma. In addition, bronchial thermoplasty has been demonstrated to reduce severe exacerbations (asthma attacks) emergency rooms visits for respiratory symptoms, and time lost from work, school and other daily activities due to asthma.
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