The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide
Diagnostic Tests - Bronchoscopy
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What happens when the test is performed?

  • You wear a hospital gown during the procedure. You have an IV (intravenous) line inserted into a vein in case you need medicines or fluid during the procedure.

    In some cases, your doctor decides that this procedure would be safer or easier if you were intubated before the test and for a short time afterward. This means having a plastic tube placed through your mouth into your main airway. If you are intubated, you are able to breathe, but you cannot speak while the tube is in place, as it passes between your vocal cords in your voice box. Intubation is always done with the assistance of an anesthesiologist, who gives you medicines to relax your throat muscles and make you unconscious for a minute or two while the tube is placed. Most patients do not require intubation.

    If you are not intubated, your doctor or nurse sprays a numbing medicine onto the back of your throat just before the procedure. This medicine makes it easier for you to have the bronchoscope placed. Most patients are also given some medicine through the IV to relax them.

    You lie on a hospital bed for the procedure. Your doctor (usually a pulmonary specialist) moves one end of the bronchoscope through your mouth and throat and into your trachea (windpipe). Some patients cough or gag briefly when this is done. The bronchoscope is much narrower than your trachea, so you are able to breathe easily during the procedure.

    The doctor can see into your lungs by watching a TV screen that shows the view from the camera on the end of the bronchoscope. Your doctor can control a miniature vacuum at the end of the scope that allows him or her to take a sample of mucus from inside the lung. It is also possible for the doctor to take a biopsy sample of the lung tissue using a needle that can be moved through the scope. At the end of the test, the bronchoscope is pulled out, and you might cough forcefully a few times, possibly coughing out some phlegm.

    Bronchoscopy usually takes 30 minutes to an hour, including setup time. The camera is usually in place for less than 20 minutes.



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