Emphysema (cont.)

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Pulmonary rehabilitation for emphysema

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These programs involve primarily two components, education and exercise.

Patient education includes:

  • proper breathing techniques,
  • clearance of secretions,
  • understanding their medications and devices,
  • efficient body mechanics, and
  • networking with other lung patients.

All of the above are essential components of emphysema treatment. Graded physical exercise under supervision allows for better patient mobility. A multidisciplinary program helps improve the patient's quality of life and decreases the number of hospitalizations for exacerbations of their underlying disease.


Depending upon what type of damage has occurred to the lung, there is potential to have surgery to decrease the lung volume and help minimize the symptoms of emphysema. Because patients with this disease tend to be older, more ill, and have associated underlying medical problems, this treatment is very patient-specific and is not routinely offered.

Studies have demonstrated that patients with emphysema primarily affecting the upper lobes of both lungs may benefit most from lung volume reduction surgery, often by removing larger bullae.

What is the prognosis and life-expectancy of a person with emphysema?

Emphysema is a disease that affects quality of life and not necessarily the quantity of life. The goal for treatment of emphysema is to prevent further lung damage, and to maximize the function of the remaining healthy lung tissue.

Symptoms of emphysema occur because the body is not being supplied with adequate oxygen, and because it takes significant effort to take deeper breaths. These both contribute to the very miserable sensation of constantly feeling short of breath.

There are no studies that have been able to predict mortality from emphysema, but studies from the American Lung Association and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 133,000 people died from COPD in 2009. The most recent National Health Interview Survey performed in 2011 found that 4.7 million people had been diagnosed with emphysema and that 24.1 million people had evidence of impaired lung function.

The BODE score can help measure quality of life and prognosis for future function.

  • B = Body Mass Index (BMI).
  • O = Obstruction. Lung function based on pulmonary function tests.
  • D = Dyspnea (breathlessness)
  • E = Exercise capacity. How far the emphysema patient can walk in 6 minutes

Neither the GOLD or BODE scores can predict longevity or mortality but are guidelines to assess the severity of emphysema and how it may affect future lifestyle.


CDC.gov. Leading Causes of Death.

American Lung Association. Trends in COPD (Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema): Morbidity and Mortality. March 2013.

Tintinalli J, etal. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th edition. McGraw-Hill Professional 2010

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/14/2013

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Emphysema - Describe Your Experience Question: Please describe your experience with emphysema.
Emphysema - Symptoms Question: What were the symptoms of your emphysema?
Emphysema - Causes and Risks Question: If known, what was the cause of your emphysema?
Emphysema - Diagnosis Question: What kinds of tests and exams did you have that led to a diagnosis of emphysema?
Emphysema - Treatment Question: Please describe the treatments, therapies, and medications you've received for emphysema.
Emphysema - Smoking Question: Are/were you a smoker prior to your emphysema diagnosis? If you've stopped, what worked for you?
Emphysema - Rehabilitation Question: Please share suggestions and tips for exercising and rehabilitating to control your emphysema.