DEAR MAYO CLINIC: My father, 68, has advanced emphysema. Medication for it doesn’t seem to help as much as it used to. We’ve heard that volume reduction surgery is sometimes used in cases like his. What does this surgery involve? What are the benefits? How do we find out if he’s a good candidate for it?
ANSWER: Lung volume reduction surgery can help treat some severe cases of emphysema. The procedure involves removing part of the damaged lung tissue, so the remaining healthy tissue can work better. But it is only appropriate in a small number of cases. A thorough medical evaluation would be necessary to see if your father might be a good candidate for lung volume reduction surgery.
Emphysema is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, that damages the lungs’ air sacs, called alveoli. The alveoli are clustered like bunches of grapes. In emphysema, the inner walls of the air sacs weaken and eventually break down. That creates one larger air space instead of many small ones. This decreases the surface area of the lungs and lowers the amount of oxygen that reaches the bloodstream.
Emphysema cannot be cured. Medications and pulmonary rehabilitation are the main therapies for this disease. Medications including bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, oxygen and antibiotics often are used to help ease breathing problems and prevent flare-ups.