Bronchial Thermoplasty
Bronchial thermoplasty uses a specialized expandable catheter tipped with a heat probe.  The catheter gently touches the lining of small airways delivering heat treatment, and over time it thins out the muscles lining the airway. Thinner muscle walls don’t contract as much during an asthma attack, allowing improved breathing and milder asthma attacks.
Credit: John Arnold

University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center pulmonary physicians are using a new procedure that uses gentle heat to treat patients with poorly controlled severe asthma, reducing the severity of their symptoms and improving their quality of life.

During an asthma attack, the thickened smooth muscle lining the airway grows inflamed, causing the airway to narrow and cut off an individual’s ability to breath normally, said Ali Saeed, MD, an assistant professor of pulmonary critical care and sleep medicine in UNM’s Department of Internal Medicine.

Most adult asthma patients find relief through a number of medicines and behavioral modifications, Saeed said, but there is a subgroup that doesn’t benefit despite maximal medical therapy. For those patients, severe asthma is a constant threat to maintaining a quality lifestyle, he said.

The new treatment, called bronchial thermoplasty, uses a specialized expandable catheter tipped with a heat probe.  The catheter gently touches the lining of small airways delivering heat treatment, and over time it thins out the muscles lining the airway. Thinner muscle walls don’t contract as much during an asthma attack, allowing improved breathing and milder asthma attacks, he said.

The procedure is performed in three steps, each at least three weeks apart. A treatment session lasts less than an hour, with a different lung area receiving the heat therapy each time.

Bronchial thermoplasty doesn't cure asthma but patients find they feel and breathe better and many see a reduction in the number of ER visits and an improved quality of life, he said.

Patients do not require hospitalization for this procedure and after two to three hours of observation, are sent home with instructions and close follow-up, Saeed said.