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Flexible bronchoscopy: Equipment, procedure, and complications

Shaheen Islam, MD, MPH, FCCP
Section Editor
Praveen N Mathur, MB, BS
Deputy Editor
Geraldine Finlay, MD


Bronchoscopy is a procedure that visualizes the tracheobronchial tree by placing an instrument inside the airways. The types of bronchoscopy are reviewed here. The equipment, technique, and complications of flexible bronchoscopy are also discussed. The indications and contraindications of flexible bronchoscopy are described separately. (See "Flexible bronchoscopy: Indications and contraindications".)


There are two main types of bronchoscopy: rigid and flexible. Virtual bronchoscopy is also available, but it is not common (table 1).

Rigid bronchoscopy — Rigid bronchoscopy is a procedure in which a straight metal tube with a beveled distal end is inserted into the trachea through the mouth (or the tracheostomy stoma) (picture 1 and picture 2), which facilitates the debulking of large tracheal or endobronchial tumors, the management of massive hemoptysis, and the insertion or removal of airway stents (table 2). The rigid bronchoscopy system consists of the rigid bronchoscope, a telescope, a light source, and a monitor to view the images (picture 3). Rigid bronchoscopy is reviewed separately. (See "Rigid bronchoscopy: Instrumentation".)

Flexible bronchoscopy — Flexible bronchoscopy is the most common type of bronchoscopy. The flexible bronchoscope is an instrument that is inserted through the mouth, a nasal orifice, an endotracheal tube, a tracheostomy tube, or a tracheostomy stoma and then used to visualize the vocal cords or tracheobronchial tree, and segmental airways out to the third generation of airways. It can also be used to sample lesions within the airways, adjacent to the airways, or in the lung parenchyma. Various endoluminal interventions to ablate tracheobronchial lesions can be administered via flexible bronchoscopy. Flexible bronchoscopy is generally performed in a procedure room (ie, a bronchoscopy suite) using moderate sedation. The flexible bronchoscope has a mechanism to flex or extend its distal end, which facilitates insertion through the curved airways. It also contains optical fibers or a small camera at the distal end to transmit images, a working channel, and a light source (figure 1 and figure 2) [1].

Variants — Several variants of traditional flexible bronchoscopy exist [2]:


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Literature review current through: Oct 2015. | This topic last updated: Aug 21, 2015.
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