Massive hemoptysis: Assessment and management

B. C. Cahill, David H Ingbar

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


The first priorities in treating the patient with massive hemoptysis are to maintain the airway, optimize oxygenation, and stabilize the hemodynamic status. The major question to be answered is whether or not the patient should be intubated for better gas exchange, suctioning, and protection from sudden cardiorespiratory arrest. If the bleeding site is known, the patient should be placed with the bleeding lung in the dependent position. Once stabilization is accomplished, diagnostic and therapeutic interventions should be promptly performed because recurrent bleeding occurs unpredictably. Early bronchoscopy, preferably during active bleeding, should be performed with three goals in mind: to lateralize the bleeding side, localize the specific site, and identify the cause of the bleeding. In those patients with lateralized or localized persistent bleeding, immediate control of the airway may be obtained during the procedure with topical therapy, endobronchial tamponade, or unilateral intubation of the nonbleeding lung. If bleeding continues but the side of origin is uncertain, lung isolation or use of a double-lumen tube is reasonable, provided that the staff is skilled in this procedure. If the bleeding can not be localized because the rate of hemorrhage makes it impossible to visualize the airway, emergent rigid bronchoscopy or emergent arteriography is indicated. Arteriography and embolization should be used emergently for both diagnosis and therapy in those patients who continue to bleed despite endobronchial therapy. Emergent surgical intervention should be considered in operative candidates with unilateral bleeding when embolization is not available or not feasible, when bleeding continues despite embolization, or when bleeding is associated with persistent hemodynamic and respiratory compromise. For patients in whom bleeding has ceased or is decreased, emergent intervention may not be necessary. If the bleeding site has been localized or lateralized with early bronchoscopy, recurrent bleeding can be managed more confidently and rapidly. The cause of bleeding can be determined at bronchoscopy in patients with endobronchial adenomas, carcinomas, foreign bodies, or broncholiths. If no diagnosis is obtained at bronchoscopy, elective angiography of the bronchial and, if necessary, the pulmonary vasculature is reasonable. The precise timing and nature of the further evaluation are dictated by the suspected underlying pathologic process and the clinical condition of the patient. Surgery is the most definitive form of therapy for patients with hemoptysis because it removes the source of bleeding. Whether to proceed with elective surgery in patients with a major bleed that stops or one that is controlled angiographically is a difficult decision. Little data are available to assist in this decision, even for specific diseases, such as bronchiectasis. Similarly, the long-term course of patients treated with endobronchial tamponade or topical therapy is unknown. For patients with inoperable disease, limited reserve, or bilateral progressive disease, embolization frequently controls bleeding for prolonged periods. It is not definitive, however, because bleeding has the potential to recur in as many as 30% of these patients. Hence a rational approach to the management of patients with massive hemoptysis requires an understanding of the normal vascular anatomy of the lung; diseases commonly associated with hemoptysis; the pathologic vascular alterations that occur with bleeding; and the risks and benefits of the medical, surgical, and interventional radiology options.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-168
Number of pages22
JournalClinics in Chest Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 1994


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