Emphysema affects millions of Americans and is a leading cause of death in the United States. Emphysema is a chronic, progressive lung disease characterized by physical destruction of lung tissue, decreased surface area for oxygen exchange and loss of lung elasticity. As a result, the lungs become overstretched. For many with the disease, the simple act of breathing becomes a difficult chore.
A surgical procedure called lung volume reduction (LVR) surgery exists that can increase lung function, relieve shortness of breath and improve quality and length of life for individuals with severe emphysema. The surgery also provides an alternative for patients with severe emphysema who are not candidates for lung transplantation and for those who have not responded to medical therapy, respiratory care or medications.
LVR, in which 20 to 30 percent of the most diseased portions of the lung are removed, allows increased airspace for the remaining lung to inflate. Although this is not a cure for emphysema, nor an option for all patients, the surgery does give many patients the chance to live healthier, more active lives. The first LVR surgery was performed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 1993. Since that time, the thoracic surgeons at Washington University have completed hundreds of these procedures.
The LVR program utilizes teamwork among skilled surgeons, pulmonologists, radiologists, anesthesiologists, respiratory therapists, nurses and nurse practitioners who have extensive experience working with, and caring for, LVR and lung transplant patients. Patients who benefit most from the procedure usually have symptomatic emphysema. They must have enough good lung tissue left to support breathing after the damaged tissue is removed, and no other severe co-morbidities that play a larger role in the patient’s health.