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Giant bullae are space-occupying lesions that cause compression of the surrounding lung parenchyma with impairment of lung function. The bullae arise from emphysematous projections of destroyed lung tissue. Hence they differ from blebs, which are localized collections of air between visceral pleural layers without underlying parenchymal disease.1 Giant bullae can be classified as three basic morphologic types: Type I bullae have a narrow neck and are superficial, type II are superficial as well but have a broad neck, and type III are both broad and deep.2 Giant bullae usually require surgical resection. A wide range of procedures from open excision to plication, drainage, video-assisted bullectomy, and lung resection can be applied.3 Developments in anesthesia and surgery have enabled surgeons to operate on patients with very limited pulmonary function; however, there is a subgroup of patients who carry a significant risk of prolonged air leak and respiratory complications following resection of giant bullae. In this group of patients a minimally invasive method, known as the Monaldi procedure, can be performed. The Monaldi procedure, named after the surgeon who first applied this technique, was used in the mid and late 20th century for drainage of apically located tuberculous cavities, lung abscesses, and subsequently of giant bullae.4

Clinical Presentation

Most patients who undergo this procedure are heavy smokers of middle to advanced age with a prolonged history of medical treatment. The most common symptoms are dyspnea and chest pain. Giant bullae occupy a significant portion of the intrathoracic space, causing significant compression of adjacent healthy lung tissue. As a result, the physiologic dead space increases and the presence of these bullae aggravate the patient's symptoms of dyspnea in generalized emphysema.

Secondary pneumothorax and hemoptysis can be the initial presenting complications. If the bulla becomes infected, fever, cough, and increased sputum production may accompany the clinical picture. Preliminary evaluation usually begins with a plain chest radiograph. Giant bullae usually have a concave contour at the base, which can be used to differentiate a bulla from pneumothorax (Fig. 100-1). If the bulla is infected, an air–fluid level is seen. The chest x-ray also may demonstrate a generalized heterogeneous emphysema, areas of scarring secondary to previous infections, and interstitial fibrosis (Fig. 100-2). Standard chest computed tomography (CT) is the best study for delineating the extent of the bulla and the degree of compression of surrounding lung tissue.

Figure 100-1

A giant bulla in the right upper zone of the chest. This bulla originated from the middle lobe and extended to the pulmonary hilum. It was treated with middle lobectomy.

Figure 100-2

A patient with a giant right upper lobe bulla, generalized emphysema, and interstitial fibrosis of the lung. His pulmonary function was severely limited with an FEV1 of 0.90 L (29%) and ...

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