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Help for lung emphysema patients

Around one million people in Germany suffer from lung emphysema as a result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The sufferers’ quality of life is considerably reduced as the lungs become hyper-inflated, resulting in decreased function. They also suffer from frequent infections and the feeling of breathlessness. The Department of Internal Medicine II at the University Hospital in Ulm (Pneumology Division led by Christian Schumann) offers medical therapies for the treatment of disease symptoms as well as a minimally invasive method that is able to improve lung function by way of tiny endobronchial valves. Ulm University Hospital is thus the first centre in southern Germany to offer treatment involving endobronchial valves.

Lung emphysema is mainly caused by smoking, but it can also be due to a specific genetic enzyme deficiency (alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency). Lung emphysema is the result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is the third most frequent cause of death worldwide. The disease reduces the function of the lungs, due to the fact that it leads to the destruction of lung tissue around the alveoli, whose role is to ensure that these air sacs retain their functional shape upon exhalation; the lungs become hyper-inflated as the air cannot be exhaled.

Valves in the upper bronchia

An endobronchial valve improves breathing. © University Hospital Ulm

"We insert a valve that looks like a small umbrella into some of the upper bronchia that supply the lungs with air through the air pipe by way of a branched system," explained the lung expert Christian Schumann. "We select bronchia that supply the most damaged lung areas. The valve prevents extra air from entering the inflated parts of the lung and at the same time the captured air can be removed. Over time, the valves are able to remove surplus air from the damaged lung areas. The healthy lung areas have more room and are able to function better," said Schumann.

The valves help to facilitate breathing, generate a modest improvement in lung function and exercise tolerance, which means that the patients' quality of life improves. A study recently published in the renowned New England Journal of Medicine reports on the positive effects achieved with endobronchial valves (N Engl. J Med 2010; 363:1233-44).

 "The therapy is suitable for patients suffering from severe lung emphysema, in particular patients who display a greater heterogeneity of emphysema between lobes and intact interlobar fissures. We are then able to use endobronchial valves to improve the function of the damaged areas," explained Schumann. The implantation of three to five valves is usually sufficient. The valves are inserted into the lungs under local anaesthesia using a flexible video probe known as a bronchoscope.

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/press-release/help-for-lung-emphysema-patients