Medical Definition of Bougie

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Bougie: A thin cylinder of rubber, plastic, metal or another material that a physician inserts into or through a body passageway, such as the esophagus, to diagnose or treat a condition. A bougie may be used to widen a passageway, guide another instrument into a passageway, or dislodge an object.

Bougies are available in a wide range of sizes and degrees of flexibility. They may consist only of a simple cylinder. The cylinder may be equipped with such devices as: (1) an inflatable balloon to apply pressure against obstructions or narrowed walls; (2) a gauge to measure the pressure applied by the balloon; (3) a wire that is positioned at the site of a stricture, blockage or another problem to guide other instruments into the passageway; (4) a channel through which dye can be injected so that a site can be identified on a fluoroscope and (5) a light to illuminate a passageway for examination.

Bougies may be used to treat strictures and blockages in the esophagus, the intestines, the rectum, the anus, the ureters (the tubes that transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder) and the urethra (the canal that transports urine from the bladder to the outside). A stricture is an abnormally narrow section of a passageway while a blockage is an obstruction within a passageway.

To remove an object lodged in the esophagus, a lubricated bougie may be used to dislodge the object and move it down into the stomach. The object then passes through the intestines. This procedure is feasible only if the object is unlikely to damage tissue as it moves through the intestinal tract.

Bougies equipped with balloons may be used to eliminate both strictures and blockages in the esophagus. In a typical procedure, a lubricated bougie may be inserted under local anesthesia. When the bougie reaches the site of the stricture or blockage, the balloon is inflated. The pressure from the balloon then can widen a narrowed passageway.

Bougies sometimes play a role in treating achalasia, a disorder in which there is abnormal function of nerves and muscles of the esophagus (swallowing tube) resulting in failure of the lowest-most part (lower esophageal sphincter) to open and allow passage of food. A bougie is used to stretch this sphincter.

Bougies equipped with lights are sometimes used in surgery involving the colon, rectum, abdomen and chest to help physicians view and identify internal structures.

"Bougie" is a French word meaning "candle." The French apparently derived the word from "Bugia," the name of a North African town that exported candles to France. Because a bougie resembles a candle, English-speaking physicians wrote it into medical lexicons to describe candle-shaped diagnostic and therapeutic instruments. It was an apt word, for such instruments originally consisted of waxed silk or cotton rolled into a cylinder. Today, the French word "bougie" can also mean "probe" and "sparkplug." Also, the English "word" bougie can sometimes be used to refer to suppositories like those inserted into the anus to treat hemorrhoids. Related terms include "bouginage" (also spelled "bougienage"), which refers to a procedure in which a bougie is used, and "bougie à boule," which refers to a bulb-tipped bougie.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/25/2017

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