When Pam hears the pulmonologist say she has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), she is mostly puzzled. She’s never really heard about COPD before. She quickly discovers that it is primarily a smoker’s disease and associated with two conditions—emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema is when damaged alveoli lose their flexibility, making it harder for them to expand and contract and leading to symptoms that include wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. Chronic bronchitis is when the lining of the damaged airways swells, thickens and creates excess mucus. In an attempt to rid the lungs of the excess mucus, a persistent cough, shortness of breath or frequent respiratory infections may occur. Pam is scared when the pulmonologist mentions to her that the damage to her lungs from COPD cannot be reversed and there is no cure for COPD.
The pulmonologist informs Pam that if she follows her COPD management program, including the medications already prescribed, then she may be able to decrease the signs and symptoms associated with COPD and lead a somewhat normal life. However, if she doesn’t follow the program, she could be placed on long-term oxygen therapy, which is costly, and she may face lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS), which involves removing up to 30 percent of each lung, making the lungs smaller and allowing them to function better. Performed by either a sternotomy or a thoracoscopy, LVRS requires a 5 to 10-day stay in the hospital followed by pulmonary rehabilitation.