COPD & Emphysema

What are COPD and emphysema?

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and you may be given this diagnosis if you have either chronic bronchitis, emphysema or both. COPD is very common. Chronic means the condition is long term. Bronchitis is inflammation of the airways, surgery does not help bronchitis. Emphysema is destruction of the tiny air sacs within the lung leading to over inflation. In certain situations surgery may help improve the symptoms of emphysema. An area of emphysema may progress to become a bulla – this is a large sac like a balloon within the lung. Surgery to remove a bulla may be very helpful if the person affected is strong enough to recover from an operation.

What causes COPD?

The biggest cause of COPD is smoking, including passive smoking. Air pollution can also cause COPD or make it worse. Very rarely a genetic problem may cause COPD and liver problems (alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency).

What is the normal treatment of COPD?

The normal medical care that we know controls symptoms and prolongs life includes:

  • Not smoking
  • Finding the right combination of medications (including inhalers) to suit you
  • Exercise, specific classes for improving your lung function and learning more about lung conditions are available across the country
  • Managing flare ups at home or in hospital
  • Healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Some people need to use oxygen at home or ventilator machines for severe breathing problems
What operations are used to treat COPD?

There are no operations that can cure COPD, some procedures can help improve the symptoms in very specific cases but most people with emphysema do not undergo surgery.  There is ongoing research about how to get the most benefit from surgery for COPD.

  • Lung volume reduction surgery has been shown to improve breathlessness and prolong life in specific cases by removing the part of the lung most affected by emphysema.
  • Bullectomy – removal of a bulla can greatly improve breathlessness.
  • Endobronchial valves – one way valves may improve breathlessness by blocking off the part of the lung most affected by emphysema and causing it to shrink.
  • Endobronchial coils – coils placed into the lung tissue may improve breathlessness and are thought to improve the elasticity of the lung.

Very rarely a lung transplant may be considered as a treatment for life threatening emphysema. Lung transplants are not performed at Heartlands Hospital.