BACKGROUND: Emphysema occurs when air sacs in the lungs are destroyed gradually, which will make a patient progressively short of breath. It is one of the many diseases known collectively as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). As emphysema worsens, it turns the spherical air sacs, which look like a cluster of grapes, into large pockets with gaping holes in their inner walls. This results in the reduction of the surface area of the lungs and the amount of oxygen that reaches the bloodstream. The elastic fibers that open the small airways leading to the air sacs slowly get destroyed as well. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)
SIGNS: A patient can have emphysema for years without knowing it. Shortness of breath will begin gradually. Then, patients may start avoiding activities that can cause them to get winded. Eventually, emphysema will cause shortness of breath even while resting. Immediate medical attention is needed if a patient is so short of breath that they can't speak, their lips or fingernails turn gray or blue, their heartbeat is usually fast, or if they're not mentally alert. Smoking is the leading cause of emphysema and treatment can only slow the progression, not reverse the damage. Long-term exposure to airborne irritants, including tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke, air pollution, coal and silica dust, or manufacturing fumes, can cause emphysema too. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)
TREATMENT: The first step for patients with emphysema would be to quit smoking. Smoking cessation drugs, bupropion hydrochloride (Zyban) or varenicline (Chantix), can help. Bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, and antibiotics can also help treat emphysema. Therapies, like pulmonary rehabilitation and supplemental oxygen, can help as well. In severe cases, the doctor might recommend a lung transplant or lung volume reduction surgery. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)
NEW TECHNOLOGY: Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is the first center in North America to enroll patients into an FDA approved clinical trial that will test whether the insertion of small coils can collapse the diseased lung areas and improve lung function, along with exercise tolerance among patients with advanced emphysema. The study aims to recruit 315 patients in 30 different U.S. and European centers. The RENEW Lung Volume Reduction Coils provide a minimally invasive alternative to lung volume reduction surgery. European pulmonologists have been investigating the device for four years, but researchers at UPMC believe that only a large, randomized trial can medically prove the device's effectiveness. The coils are small, elastic, shape-memory coils that are made of a metal that is commonly used in medical implants. Researchers implanted up to 10 coils in wire form into the lung of one patient. After deployment the wires recoil, pulling in the damaged lung area so that the remaining, healthy lung can inflate and deflate more effectively while improving airway function and breathing both at rest and during exercise. (Source: http://www.upmc.com/media/NewsReleases/2013/Pages/Patients-Trial-Coils-Emphysema-Lungs.aspx) For study information contact: Christine Ledezma, UPMC Clinical Research Coordinator (412) 864-3368.
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