Implanted Lung Valves Show Promise in Some Emphysema Patients

Treatment Shows Promise for Some With Emphysema

By Randy Dotinga

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 9, 2015 (HealthDay News) — New research suggests that more careful selection of patients could help improve the success rate of valves implanted into the lungs of people with emphysema.

The valves aim to improve breathing, allowing patients with the chronic lung disease to be more active and to perhaps survive longer. Previous research into the valves has been mixed, but the new Dutch study found that they work more effectively if physicians are more selective about which patients get them.

“The results are relatively impressive,” said lung physician Dr. Gary Hunninghake, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “These are benefits that physicians would want to get, and patients might feel better. This could result in people being more enthusiastic about this technique.”

However, the valves come with a risk of serious side effects, the study authors noted, and the treatment appears to be expensive. It’s also not clear whether the valves actually extend lives.

Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that damages the airways and makes it difficult for people to breathe. Smoking is the main cause.

Treatment may help patients. But the prognosis can be grim for some people, with death expected within a few years.

In patients with emphysema, pockets filled with air can develop in the lungs and disrupt breathing, said Hunninghake, who was not involved in the new study. The pockets may push on other areas of the lung, causing it to expand in an unhealthy way.

Scientists have developed one-way “endobronchial valves,” which are implanted in the lung and allow air to get out of the pockets but not get back into them, Hunninghake said. “It’s a way of reducing the volume of these areas without doing surgery on them,” he added, and patients may have several valves implanted.

Some physicians have wondered if they don’t work as well in certain patients because air finds other ways to re-enter the pockets. In those patients, it appears that “the valve doesn’t shut down the problem,” Hunninghake said.

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