News and Information

July 1, 2011

St. Joseph Medical Center Offers First Non-Drug Treatment For Severe Asthma

St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma now provides the first non-drug treatment for severe asthma. The procedure, called bronchial thermoplasty, can permanently open constricted airways in the lungs and provide symptom relief that standard medication therapies do not.

Interventional Pulmonologist Navdeep Rai, MD, performed the initial bronchial thermoplasty on Tuesday, June 21 at the Advanced Endoscopy Center at St. Joseph. St. Joseph Medical Center is among the first hospitals in Washington to introduce the innovative procedure.

"This is a very promising treatment for individuals who have been taking all the right medications as prescribed by their doctor, but whose symptoms are not completely under control," said Dr. Rai. "The procedure will help many patients reduce their use of rescue inhalers, lead more active lives, and feel better physically."

Patients who are at least 18 years old and suffer from severe, persistent asthma not controlled with current standard treatments (inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonists) may be eligible for bronchial thermoplasty.

Asthma is an inflammation of the airways that causes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. The condition ranges in severity from an occasional annoyance to a chronic, life-threatening health problem. An estimated 17.5 million adults and 7 million children in the United States have asthma, according to the federal Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. About 3,500 people die from asthma-related conditions annually.

People who suffer chronic asthma often develop a thickening of the smooth muscle lining the airway. This results in narrowing of the airway. Bronchial thermoplasty reduces the size of that muscle, which decreases the ability of the airways to constrict. This in turn can reduce the frequency of asthma attacks.

During minimally invasive bronchial thermoplasty, the patient is under moderate sedation or light anesthesia as the interventional pulmonologist guides a flexible tube (bronchoscope) through the nose or mouth into the lungs. The tip of the small diameter catheter is expanded to contact the airway walls. Then, thermal energy is directed at the walls to permanently shrink the enlarged smooth muscle that has caused airway constriction.

A camera and light attached to the bronchoscope inside the lungs allow the pulmonologist to view the procedure on a screen in the operating room in real time and high-definition detail. Patients typically return home the same day, without staying overnight in the hospital.

"The bronchoscopic procedure is performed in three outpatient visits, with each one treating a different area of the lungs and scheduled approximately three weeks apart," said Dr. Rai, who is medical director of the Franciscan Health System’s intensivist program. "After all three procedures, the bronchial thermoplasty treatment is complete."

St. Joseph Medical Center, established in 1891, is part of the Franciscan Health System.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the bronchial thermoplasty system in April 2010 following clinical trials of the new non-drug asthma therapy.

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