It’s common knowledge that our lungs–a pair of pyramid-shaped organs nestled in the chest–keep us alive. They do so by exchanging carbon dioxide, a waste byproduct our bodies produce, with oxygen in the air around us. That’s why when things go awry in the lungs, it takes a major toll on our overall health, and many lung conditions can, of course, be life threatening.
Pulmonary emphysema is a form of progressive lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is the third leading cause of mortalities in the US, and covers individuals who have emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Though the two diseases are different, many patients with COPD present with features belonging to both diseases. Emphysema is most commonly caused by smoking, but can also be caused by chronic exposure to other noxious gases; the disease is characterized by the abnormal, irreversible enlargement of air spaces in the lungs paired with the destruction of their walls without any scarring involved.
A treatment sometimes used for emphysema is known as lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS). During the procedure, a surgeon will remove diseased, emphysematous tissue from your lung in the hopes of reducing the size of an expanded lung and permitting the growth of the other, generally better-functioning one.
In some patients, LVRS has been proven to:
- Increase lung capacity
- Help improve breathing ability
- Improve overall quality of life
The surgery’s effectiveness, however, depends on where the diseased tissue is and how damaged it is. Other factors that will affect effectiveness include the recipient’s ability to tolerate major surgery and exercise tolerance. The National Emphysema Treatment Trial study (initially published in 2003) isolated four sub-groups of emphysema patients with different benefits and risks from LVRS:
- Group 1: low exercise capacity with mostly upper lobe emphysema.
- Group 2: high exercise capacity with mostly upper lobe emphysema.
- Group 3: low exercise capacity with diffuse emphysema.
- Group 4: high exercise capacity with diffuse emphysema.
The study found that individuals who fall under the “Group 1” category are the prime candidates for LVRS. Your pulmonologist and thoracic surgeon, however, will be the ones to decide what treatment route works best for you.