Emphysema belongs to a group of diseases called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
This long-term and progressive disease of the lungs causes shortness of breath. It destroys the tissues necessary to support the shape and function of the lungs.
Other rare causes of COPD include:
When emphysema worsens, your air sacs — normally spherical in shape — contort into large, irregular pockets.
These pockets of destroyed air sacs:
Over time, emphysema destroys the elastic fibers that hold the bronchioles (tiny airways that lead to the air sacs) open.
When this happens, the airways collapse when you exhale. Consequently, the lungs cannot expel carbon dioxide to make room for fresh air.
Learn more about COPD in our Health Library:
Contact the UPMC Esophageal and Lung Surgery Institute with questions or for more information.Or, call the Thoracic and Foregut Surgery Division at 412-647-7555.
The symptoms of emphysema and other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) develop slowly. Most people don't realize they have the condition until these symptoms worsen.
When symptoms do become apparent, they can include:
Doctors use a variety of tests to diagnose emphysema.
One of the best COPD diagnostic tools is a lung function test called spirometry.
For this test, the doctor will ask you to blow out as hard as you can into a device that measures lung capacity. The test results are available immediately.
Unlike some other diagnostic procedures, during spirometry, you don’t need to:
Your doctor may also:
Learn more about COPD symptoms and tests in our Health Library:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) represents the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. However, effective treatment options do exist.
Although treatment cannot reverse damage from emphysema, it may slow progression of the disease. If you smoke, the single most effective treatment involves quitting smoking.
The experts at the UPMC Esophageal and Lung Surgery Institute also provide surgical options for people with emphysema.
Some people with emphysema may have areas of the lung that are more affected than others. The LVRS procedure removes up to 35 percent of the poorly functioning lung tissue from each lung.
By removing this space-occupying tissue, the remaining relatively healthy lung tissue and surrounding muscles can work more efficiently. This allows for easier breathing and helps people with emphysema enjoy a better quality of life.
UPMC is one of the only hospitals in the United States approved to perform this life-enhancing procedure. In fact, James Luketich, MD is a pioneer in both minimally invasive surgery techniques and LVRS specifically.
At the Esophageal and Lung Surgery Institute, you have a team of medical specialists and allied professionals all in one location. There’s no need to travel from facility to facility for testing, rehabilitation, and surgery.
It’s a comprehensive, collaborative program that offers the best opportunity for those with emphysema to enhance their quality of life and improve their health status overall.
You may want to consider LVRS if your emphysema greatly impacts your quality of life.
It’s important to know the strict criteria necessary to qualify for LVRS.
You must have stopped smoking for a minimum of four months to undergo preliminary testing for LVRS. Prior to preliminary diagnostic tests, doctors will order tests that will show if you’ve used tobacco products in the past four months.
A key factor in determining eligibility for LVRS involves undergoing careful medical risk assessment testing. These preliminary tests determine whether you are likely to survive the surgery and thrive after the operation.
Some of the preliminary tests include:
Before surgery, once you’ve passed all the preliminary testing and qualified for the LVRS procedure:
After minimally invasive LVRS, you will:
A lung transplant may represent an option for those with very advanced (end stage) disease or disabling emphysema symptoms.
UPMC's Lung Transplant Program is one of the most recognized and experienced centers in the world. This expertise allows us to accept many people as lung transplant candidates that other centers may decline.
Learn more about COPD treatments in our Health Library:
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