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Emphysema Treatment


Emphysema is a chronic lung condition in which the air sacs of the lungs are damaged. When this happens, the lungs lose some of their elasticity and are unable to empty completely, trapping air in the lungs and causing shortness of breath.

Emphysema can be caused by smoking or, in rare cases, it can be inherited. The earliest symptom of emphysema may be minor discomfort with breathing during exertion or exercise.

Emphysema is one of the main forms of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which causes increased difficulty breathing over time. COPD puts 14 million Americans in a daily struggle to catch their breath. COPD is a leading cause of death in the United States. Medication can help control its progression, but emphysema cannot be cured.


COPD flare-ups are sudden attacks of increased/worsened symptoms, similar to an asthma attack. Wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, or increased mucus production may worsen. If the symptoms are severe, a patient may need to be hospitalized. Preventive medication can help control emphysema and COPD symptoms.


Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University School of Medicine is the largest, most comprehensive care provider for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the region.

Before treatment, patients at our Center first undergo a thorough evaluation that includes exercise testing and sophisticated measures of lung function. Permanent smoking cessation is an important step in preventing further lung damage.

Our comprehensive emphysema treatment programs include the latest in medication therapy, along with extensive education in all aspects of the disease. Additional treatments usually include exercise, with the use of oxygen if needed.

A COPD rehabilitation program also is available - even for patients with severe disease - to help maintain lung function. Our medical staff also will help plan treatment for patients traveling from a distance, who want to take their rehabilitation closer to home.

Surgical options include lung transplantation and lung volume reduction. The Washington University physicians at Barnes-Jewish Hospital have completed more than 1,000 lung transplants. The Center is one of the busiest transplant centers in the world, performing 55-60 lung transplants each year. Learn more about lung transplants.

Washington University surgeons were the first to perform lung volume reduction surgery to treat COPD, and today they remain national leaders in this procedure. With more than 450 procedures performed, the practice is now accredited as a Center of Excellence by the Joint Commission. Lung volume reduction surgery essentially gives patients’ lungs more “breathing room.” During the procedure, portions of overly distended diseased lung (20-30 percent of each lung) are removed to allow more space for remaining lung to inflate. While not a complete cure for emphysema, the surgery does afford many patients the opportunity to lead healthier, more active lives. Learn more about lung volume reduction surgery.

2023 Best Hospitals - Pulmonology

#23 in the Nation by U.S. News & World Report

2023 High Performance Badge - COPD

Find a doctor or make an appointment: 866.867.3627
General Information: 314.747.3000
One Barnes-Jewish Plaza
St. Louis, MO 63110
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