Emphysema Treatment

Slow the Progression and Improve Quality of Life

Lung function test
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Emphysema is among a group of lung disorders classified as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The most common cause of emphysema is cigarette smoking, but other risk factors, such as secondhand smokeair pollution, or work-related exposure may also play a part in its development.

In emphysema, the alveoli, or air sacs that lie deep within the lungs, become damaged and eventually burst, leaving large holes that trap air within the lungs.

When air is trapped, it is difficult for the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, which can result in low oxygen (hypoxemia) and eventually high carbon dioxide (hypercapnia) levels in the blood.

Although there is no cure for emphysema, the goal of treatment is to slow the progression of the disease, treat the obstructed airways to relieve associated hypoxia and improve quality of life.

Medication Management

Currently, there are no drug treatments available that have proven successful in modifying the rate of decline in lung function for those who have emphysema. There are, however, medications available to treat emphysema, which can help to reduce or abolish symptoms, increase exercise tolerance, reduce the number and frequency of COPD exacerbations and improve overall health status.

Common medications used in the treatment of stable COPD include the following:

Non-Medication-Related Treatment for Emphysema

To further support the goals of treatment for emphysema, non-pharmacological measures include those types of treatments that don't involve medication, but which can greatly improve patient outcomes.

1. Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Through assessment, exercise, education and psychological support, the goals of pulmonary rehabilitation are to reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and increase physical and emotional participation in daily activities. In a broader sense, pulmonary rehabilitation also helps to reduce overall health care costs among the COPD population.

With the help of an interdisciplinary approach, benefits of a pulmonary rehabilitation program include the following:

    • Improves exercise tolerance
    • Reduces the perceived intensity of breathlessness
    • Improves health status and quality of life
    • Reduces the number of COPD hospitalizations and length of stay
    • Reduces anxiety and depression
    • Improves upper body strength and endurance

    According to the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), an effective pulmonary rehabilitation program should last at least six weeks. Moreover, the longer that the program remains in effect, the more effective the results.

    Learn more about living with COPD:

    2. Oxygen Therapy

    Oxygen therapy can be administered either continuously, during activity or to relieve sudden episodes of shortness of breath.

    Long-term oxygen therapy (> 15 hours a day) has been shown to increase survival rates in people with COPD and helps preserve the function of all vital organs.

    Usually, long-term oxygen therapy is initiated during Stage IV (very severe) COPD for patients who demonstrate low oxygen saturation levels or low blood oxygen.

    Learn more about the stages of COPD and oxygen therapy:

      3. Smoking Cessation

      Smoking cessation remains the single, most important aspect of emphysema treatment, but is also the most overlooked.If you are searching for information to help you quit smoking, visit Verywell's Smoking Cessation section.

      Learn more about quitting smoking:

        4. Surgical Intervention

        Currently, there are three types of ​lung surgery for treatment of end-stage emphysema in patients with severe symptoms not improved by medication therapy. They are as follows:

          In Conclusion

          Emphysema is a disease that is often deadly in nature. Though irreversible, consistent treatment of your emphysema will help you breathe easier, improve your health status and allow you to live a better quality of life.


          Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of COPD, Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) 2006. Available from: http://www.goldcopd.org.

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