Now a US doctor, Jonathon Truwit of Virginia, is offering patients a new, nonsurgical option. Under the procedure, tiny valves are implanted in the lungs. The valves act like an umbrella. They prevent air from entering diseased sections of the lungs and redirect it to healthier areas.
"The air will hit the umbrella and get trapped by the umbrella and turn around and come out," says
There's no incision, so the valve procedure is less risky than standard surgery -- and recovery is easier.
"I think it's terrific. I think we're offering opportunities for patients, should this work out, to have non, or a less invasive means of improving their quality of life," Truwit pointed out.
The valve procedure has been performed on about 75 patients so far. There are safety risks. About 7 percent of patients suffer a collapsed lung. If patients experience problems, the valves can be removed. Doctor Truwit says the valves may offer an alternative to patients who are too sick to have standard lung surgery.
Damage to the air sacs is irreversible and results in permanent holes in the tissue of the lower lungs. Early symptoms of emphysema include shortness of breath and cough. The patient experiences great difficulty exhaling. Emphysema doesn't develop suddenly; it comes on gradually. Years of exposure to the irritation of cigarette smoke usually precede the development of emphysema.
Emphysema is the fourth most common cause of mortality in the U.S., according to the National Emphysema Foundation. Almost 3 million Americans live with the disease, and approximately 120,000 die each year.
Quitting smoking is of course easily the best way of maintaining healthy lungs.
Once stricken badly, lung transplantation could seem a way out. But the valves procedures seem a much more acceptable option.
Jonathon Truwit, is the division head of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He implants the tiny valves while the patient is under anesthesia. Using a bronchoscope, he typically inserts six to nine of the valves. "We think the risk to the patient is going to be much lower because of the decreased operating room time and the decrease recovery time," says Dr. Truwit. "They can go out of the hospital the next day."
So far, the procedure has only been performed on about 75 patients across the country. "Their shortness of breath has been significantly reduced. Their quality of life has improved," he says.
There are some risks, however. Approximately 7 percent of patients have suffered a collapsed lung.