Emphysema can't be cured, but treatments can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
- Smoking cessation drugs. Prescription medications, such as bupropion hydrochloride (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix), can help you quit smoking.
- Bronchodilators. These drugs can help relieve coughing, shortness of breath and trouble breathing by relaxing constricted airways, but they're not as effective in treating emphysema as they are in treating asthma or chronic bronchitis.
- Inhaled steroids. Corticosteroid drugs inhaled as aerosol sprays may help relieve shortness of breath. But prolonged use can weaken your bones and increase your risk of high blood pressure, cataracts and diabetes.
- Antibiotics. If you develop a bacterial infection, like acute bronchitis or pneumonia, antibiotics are appropriate.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation. A pulmonary rehabilitation program can teach you breathing exercises and techniques that may help reduce your breathlessness and improve your ability to exercise. You'll also receive advice about proper nutrition. In the early stages of emphysema, many people need to lose weight, while people with late-stage emphysema often need to gain weight.
- Supplemental oxygen. If you have severe emphysema with low blood oxygen levels, using oxygen regularly at home and when you exercise may provide some relief. Many people use oxygen 24 hours a day. It's usually administered via narrow tubing that fits into your nostrils.
Depending on the severity of your emphysema, your doctor may suggest one or more different types of surgery, including:
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- Lung volume reduction. In this procedure, surgeons remove small wedges of damaged lung tissue. Removing the diseased tissue helps the remaining lung tissue work more efficiently and helps improve breathing.
- Lung transplant. Lung transplantation is an option if you have severe emphysema and other options have failed.
- Shapiro SD, et al. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In: Mason RJ, et al. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/192068760-2/0/1288/0.html. Accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
- What is COPD? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Copd/Copd_WhatIs.html. Accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
- Anthonisen N. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In: Goldman L, et al. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2008. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/191371208-2/0/1492/0.html#. Accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In: Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2011: Instant Diagnosis and Treatment. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2011. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-05610-6..C2009-0-38600-6--TOP&isbn=978-0-323-05610-6&about=true&uniqId=230100505-53. Accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
- Rennard SI. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Definition, clinical manifestations, diagnosis and staging. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Feb. 24, 2011.
- Rennard SI. Management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Feb. 25, 2011.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation: A team approach to improving quality of life. American College of Chest Physicians. http://www.chestnet.org/accp/patient-guides/pulmonary-rehabilitation-team-approach-improving-quality-life. Accessed Feb. 25, 2011.
- What is oxygen therapy? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/oxt/oxt_all.html. Accessed Feb. 25, 2011.