Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includes two separate lung problems, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.  Some people with COPD have severe symptoms and have a hard time breathing all the time. In some people living with COPD that have severe and frequent symptoms, doctors may suggest lung surgery to improve breathing.  The surgery takes care of the emphysema component of COPD.  Not everyone is a candidate for lung surgery.

Are You a Candidate for Lung Surgery?

Some people with COPD will experience fewer or less severe symptoms and be more active after surgery, but others will not benefit.  Some considerations for surgery candidates include:

  • You must be strong enough to have the surgery.
  • You must participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program.
  • You cannot be a current smoker.

Some lung surgeries require that the lung damage must be in an area that is localized (a specific area) and can be removed. The decision for surgery is based on the results of many tests. Talk to your doctor to find out if lung surgery is right for you.

Types of Lung Surgery

There are two types of lung surgery performed to address COPD:

  • Bullectomy is a procedure where doctors remove one or more of the very large bullae or blebs from the lungs. Bullae are large air sacs that form from hundreds of destroyed alveoli. These air spaces can become so large that they crowd out the better functioning lung and interfere with breathing. For those people, removing the destroyed air sacs improves breathing.
  • Lung Volume Reduction Surgery (LVRS) is a procedure to help people with severe emphysema affecting the upper lung lobes. LVRS is not a cure for COPD but can improve one's exercise capacity and quality of life. The goal of the surgery is to reduce the size of the lungs by removing about 30 percent of the most diseased lung tissues so that the remaining healthier portion can perform better. LVRS also can allow the diaphragm to return to its normal shape, helping you breathe more efficiently. The surgery has been shown to help improve breathing ability, lung capacity and overall quality of life among those who qualify for it.

Lung Transplants

Sometimes COPD can cause severe damage to the lungs, causing them not to function normally. Your doctor may recommend a lung transplant if the damage is not repairable. Lung transplants can improve your ability to breathe and be active. However, like any major operation, you should consider the risks and complications, such as organ rejection or needing to take immune-suppressing medications daily. Talk to your doctor or the trained staff at our Lung Helpline to find out more information about how and where to receive a lung transplant evaluation or the process for becoming an organ donor.

For more information about issues related to LVRS and lung transplants, call our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA  (1-800-586-4872).

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: March 5, 2021

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