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Flexible bronchoscopy in adults: Overview

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


Bronchoscopy is an endoscopic procedure that visualizes the tracheobronchial tree by placing an optical instrument inside the airways. The value of bronchoscopy has grown in its diagnostic and therapeutic capacity such that the clinician needs to be aware of the available technology and the associated clinical applications.

An overview of flexible bronchoscopy and accessory procedures that can be performed during flexible bronchoscopy are reviewed here. The procedure, indications, contraindications, and complications of flexible bronchoscopy are described separately. (See "Flexible bronchoscopy in adults: Indications and contraindications".)


The main types of bronchoscopy are compared in the table (table 1).

Flexible bronchoscopy – Flexible bronchoscopy is also known as standard white light bronchoscopy. It is typically performed using conscious sedation and is a smaller more flexible piece of equipment that permits access to the lower airways such as the third order of bronchi (figure 1). Consequently, it is more widely used than rigid bronchoscopy for both diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. (See 'Flexible bronchoscopy' below.)

Rigid bronchoscopy – Rigid bronchoscopy also uses a white light source to visualize the airways. However, compared to flexible bronchoscopy, it is a larger, more rigid piece of equipment that can only access the proximal airways. It requires general anesthesia and is usually used for interventional procedures for which flexible bronchoscopy cannot be performed. (See 'Rigid bronchoscopy' below.)

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Feb 19, 2016.
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