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A Breakthrough Procedure Can Help Emphysema Patients Breathe Easier

February 04, 2020

If you have emphysema, severe shortness of breath makes it difficult to complete everyday activities like going for a walk or even taking a shower. This progressive lung disease is a severe form of chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD). It occurs when the air sacs at the end of the smallest air passages become damaged, usually because of smoking. Air becomes trapped in those damaged pockets, putting pressure on the healthy parts of the lung and diaphragm.

Emphysema is life-threatening and currently has no cure. Initial treatments include medications such as bronchodilators, inhaled steroids and antibiotics. Pulmonary rehabilitation, nutrition therapy and supplemental oxygen are other approaches. 

For people with more serious cases of emphysema, doctors traditionally recommend lung surgery to remove damaged tissue or a lung transplant. 

An Alternative to Lung Surgery

A new treatment offers an alternative to lung surgery for these severe cases. The Zephyr Endobronchial Valve is the first procedure approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emphysema that is minimally invasive, with no cuts or incisions needed. 

The valve is intended to be used in conjunction with other lung medications. It does not cure emphysema and may not eliminate all symptoms of the disease. However, it does provide a revolutionary approach for improving the health and quality of life for patients with emphysema and COPD.

What Happens

The one-time, 30- to 60-minute procedure is performed during a bronchoscopy. In a typical procedure, your doctor will give you medicine to make you sleepy. They will insert a small tube with a camera — called a bronchoscope — through your nose or mouth and down into your lungs. The doctor will place four tiny valves in your lungs to block off the diseased areas and prevent air from entering those areas and becoming trapped. As a result, the healthier parts of the lungs are more efficient. The lungs can expand and the diaphragm has less pressure, enabling you to take deeper breaths. 

You may stay in the hospital for three days for observation, and should still take any medication your doctor has prescribed for your condition unless otherwise indicated. Patients who have had the surgery say that relief is immediate and they are quickly able to return to everyday activities.

Since 2007, more than 15,000 people around the world have been treated with the Zephyr Valve. In July 2018, the FDA approved the device.

As with any medical procedure, some risks exist, including pneumothorax, worsening of COPD symptoms, bleeding in the airway, pneumonia and, in rare cases, death.

Good Candidates for the Zephyr Valve

In tests, the valve was effective on adults who had little or no collateral ventilation (where ventilation bypasses obstructed airways through other channels) in the lobe where one of the valves will be placed. People who have breathlessness even though they are taking emphysema or COPD medicines are candidates. Other health factors also will be taken into account.

Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center is first in Central Florida to offer Zephyr Endobronchial Valve

The lung valve is the first FDA-approved device to help patients with emphysema breathe easier without major surgery.


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