Expandable Metallic Stents in Benign Tracheobronchial Obstruction

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Expandable metallic stents offer advantages over previously available techniques for treating benign tracheobronchial stenosis or obstruction. Endoluminal stent placement offers a rapid and effective means of opening up narrowed airways, and results in excellent relief of symptoms and improvement in pulmonary function. Because they are delivered in a nonexpanded state using flexible over-wire systems, they can be placed using a flexible bronchoscope and can be located in second-order bronchial branches. Metallic stents have been used to treat benign airway obstruction caused by anastomotic narrowing after lung transplantation, infection, congenital lesions, tracheobronchial malacia, inflammatory conditions including relapsing polychondritis, Wegener granulomatosis, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and external compression from benign mediastinal masses or fibrosis. The stents become epithelialized, which prevents migration and permits ciliary activity to continue. Significant complications can occur, including airway inflammation, stent migration, airway erosion, and stent fracture and collapse, but more serious complications are uncommon. Computed tomography is essential in imaging patients being considered for stent placement, as it allows 1) accurate representation of airway anatomy in three dimensions, 2) measurement of airway diameter, 3) evaluation of airway anatomy distal to a narrowed segment and invisible to bronchoscopy, 4) demonstration of dynamic changes in airway morphologic features during forced exhalation in patients with airway malacia, and 5) demonstration of focal or diffuse air trapping in lung peripheral to the abnormal airway. In patients who have had stent placement, computed tomography is valuable in assessing airway morphologic features and dynamics distal to the stent, and can be valuable in assessing stent dysfunction.

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