Objective: To determine whether emergency rigid bronchoscopic intervention, including Nd-YAG laser resection or stenting, immediately affected the need for continued mechanical ventilation or intensive care level of support in critically ill patients with acute respiratory failure from malignant or benign central airways obstruction.
Design: Retrospective review of medical records of all patients with acute respiratory failure and malignant or benign tracheobronchial obstruction necessitating intubation, mechanical ventilation, or hospitalization in the ICU prior to referral for therapeutic bronchoscopy.
Setting: University of California San Diego, a tertiary care institution specialized in airway management.
Patients: Medical records of 32 patients with malignant or benign central airways obstruction requiring admission to the ICU prior to rigid bronchoscopic intervention between January 1994 and April 1996.
Interventions: Emergent rigid bronchoscopy with dilatation, Nd-YAG laser resection, or silicone stent insertion performed in the operating room under general anesthesia.
Results: Thirty-two patients with central airways obstruction requiring emergent hospitalization in the ICU were referred for therapeutic rigid bronchoscopy. Airway strictures were caused by benign disease in 18 patients, and by primary bronchogenic lung cancer in 14. Of the 19 patients who were mechanically ventilated, bronchoscopic intervention allowed immediate discontinuation of mechanical ventilation in 10 (52.6%). Twenty-five patients had indwelling artificial airways (12 endotracheal tubes, 13 tracheotomy tubes). Two, however, were considered tracheotomy-dependent because of neuromuscular disease. Of the remaining 23 patients, immediate extubation or decannulation was possible in seven (30.4%). Of seven patients with no indwelling airway, five (71.4%) were immediately transferred to a lower level of care after intervention. Of the 32 total patients, 20 (62.5%) were immediately transferred to a lower level of care immediately after intervention.
Conclusions: Emergency laser resection or stent insertion can favorably affect health-care utilization in patients with acute respiratory distress from central airways obstruction. Treatment may be lifesaving and allows successful withdrawal from mechanical ventilation, hospitalization in a lower level of care environment, relief of symptoms, and extended survival in critically ill patients. In patients with regionally advanced cancer, the palliative nature of this procedure postpones death by respiratory distress and may prompt consideration for institution of conservative comfort measures to reduce patient suffering.