The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Living with a chronic lung disease, such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can present many challenges. On top of trying to cope with your condition, navigating the healthcare industry, finding the right emphysema treatment plan and fully understanding your condition may seem nearly impossible. Here’s what you need to know about emphysema and emphysema progression.
What is emphysema?
Along with chronic bronchitis, emphysema is one of the major obstructive lung diseases under the umbrella category of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Emphysema gradually damages the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs, making it progressively more difficult to breathe. The tiny air sacs are responsible for bringing oxygen to the bloodstream. As emphysema progresses, holes form in the inner walls of the air sacs, which weakens their internal structure. The elasticity of the airways that lead to the air sacs is also damaged, resulting in air sacs that collapse and leave oxygen in the lungs. When the air sacs collapse and trap old air inside the lungs, it becomes difficult to breathe in fresh, oxygen-rich air. People with emphysema struggle to breathe and experience difficulty receiving enough oxygen. Because emphysema worsens over time, emphysema progression will occur.
What are emphysema symptoms?
Because emphysema progression is typically gradual, people may experience emphysema symptoms for years before their symptoms cause problems. However, people with emphysema may have symptom flare-ups caused by a trigger, such as allergens, airborne pollutants, chemical fumes, perfumes, infections or illnesses and others. Seeing your doctor regularly and avoiding your triggers is essential.
Emphysema symptoms include:
- Chest tightness
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath (even while at rest)
How is emphysema progression determined?
While every person with emphysema is unique, emphysema progression is determined through tests and staging systems. These tests and staging systems are used as a guide and a way to predict emphysema progression. One test is the pulmonary function test (PFT). A pulmonary function test can be done with spirometry or plethsmography. A spirometer is a device with a mouthpiece attached to a small electronic machine. Plethysmography happens when you sit or stand inside an air-tight box that looks like a short, square telephone booth to do the tests. This test measures how well your lungs and your treatments are working.
GOLD Staging System
The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) came up with the GOLD staging system. GOLD uses the forced expiratory volume (FEV1) test, which is the amount of air a person can forcefully exhale in one second, to place emphysema progression into stages:
- Stage 1: Very mild emphysema with a FEV1 about 80 percent or more of normal.
- Stage 2: Moderate emphysema with a FEV1 between 50 and 80 percent of normal.
- Stage 3: Severe emphysema, with FEV1 between 30 and 50 percent of normal.
- Stage 4: Very severe emphysema, with a lower FEV1 than Stage 3 or those with Stage 3 FEV1 and low blood oxygen levels.
As the stage number increases, the emphysema progression also worsens.
Some scientists believe there are other ways to measure emphysema progression. These scientists came up with the BODE Index. BODE stands for body mass, airflow obstruction, dyspnea and exercise capacity. The BODE Index takes into account how emphysema affects your life.
The body mass index (BMI) is used to determine if you’re underweight, overweight or obese. Airflow obstruction refers to your FEV1 score, which is similar to the GOLD system. Simply put, dyspnea means difficulty breathing, so measuring dyspnea can help determine emphysema progression. Exercise capacity refers to exercise tolerance. Many people with emphysema take a six minute walk test to evaluate their level of exercise tolerance. Combined, these measurements make up the BODE Index and can be used to determine emphysema progression or an approximate life expectancy.
Are there emphysema treatments?
Emphysema, chronic bronchitis and COPD are all chronic, progressive lung diseases, meaning they will worsen over time. While there isn’t a cure for emphysema, treatment options and emphysema therapies are available to help manage symptoms. Because emphysema progression is different from person to person, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the best emphysema treatment plan for you. Your doctor may recommend medications such as inhalers, corticosteroids, vitamins, diet and exercise modifications, pulmonary rehabilitation or oxygen therapy.
Some people with emphysema have found relief from their symptoms through cellular therapy. Cellular therapy for emphysema uses adult cells, or cells derived from the patient’s own body. Lung Institute’s medical staff extracts the cells, separates them in the on-site lab and then returns the cells to the patient intravenously. Once returned to the patient, the cells can promote healing within the lungs. Many of our patients report an improved quality of life and an ability to breathe easier. If you or a loved one has emphysema, chronic bronchitis or COPD and would like to learn more about cellular therapy options, contact us at (800) 729-3065.