What is Emphysema?

Emphysema afflicts more than 4 million Americans and claims nearly 11,000 lives annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a progressively destructive lung disease in which the walls between the tiny air sacs in the lungs are damaged. The lungs lose their elasticity, and exhaling becomes increasingly difficult. Air remains trapped in the overinflated lungs. The diseased tissue compresses healthy lung tissue and flattens the diaphragm so it cannot assist with breathing.

What Causes Emphysema?

Smoking is responsible for 80-90% of all chronic lung diseases such as emphysema.

What surgery is performed on emphysema patients?

The surgery currently performed on patients with emphysema is called lung-volume reduction surgery (LVRS). The goal of this procedure is to reduce the size of the lung so the diaphragm can relax and move up and down with breathing. This allows compressed lung tissue to re-expand, so less air is trapped and high negative pressure in the lung, which may cause the airways to collapse, can be reduced.

The procedure requires either an incision down the middle of the chest or on the side of the chest. The type of incision depends on the type of emphysema. Patients are put to sleep, and the surgery takes about an hour and a half to two hours. A piece of equipment called a stapler will be used to seal off and remove diseased air sacs. One to two chest tubes will be inserted to remove air which may accumulate in the chest after surgery and will remain in place for several days after surgery.

How long will I be in the hospital?

After surgery is complete, you will be sent to the intensive or intermediate care unit overnight and then to a regular hospital unit for 10 to 14 days. Your hospital stay is determined by how well your lungs seal any tiny air leaks that occur with the surgery. Air is removed by the chest tube that is left in after surgery until the air leak has sealed. Once the leak has sealed, the tube is taken out. Most patients can go home shortly after the chest tube is removed. While you recover in the hospital, you will be encouraged to walk and perform some rehabilitative exercises even while the chest tube is in place.

What are the risks of this surgery?

Anyone who undergoes surgery is at risk for complications. Patients with emphysema are at a higher risk due to their lung condition. After surgery, patients are at greater risk of pneumonia than patients without emphysema.

Do I qualify for the surgery?

To qualify for surgery, you must be smoke-free for at least four months. If you are currently smoking and plan to stop, you may contact the office six weeks after you have stopped smoking to plan your evaluation for surgery. There are several tests which must be done prior to surgery to determine if your emphysema will benefit from surgery. All tests will be evaluated by our staff. You will receive pre-operative and post-operative instruction and be asked to sign an operative permit for surgery. You may wish to stay overnight at a nearby hotel for the testing prior to surgery. Our staff can assist you with hotel arrangements.

What is expected of me after I am discharged from the hospital?

After discharge, you will need to participate in an exercise program. Exercise will assist you in obtaining the most benefit from your surgery. We also request that you allow us to monitor your progress.

Is this procedure covered under my insurance?

Many, but not all, insurance companies cover this procedure. We can help you obtain pre-admission authorization from your insurance carrier prior to the surgery if needed. If you have Medicare, please call our office to discuss current coverage.