COPD & Emphysema

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a common preventable and treatable disease of the lungs. Patients with COPD have airflow obstruction that is caused either by destruction of the air sacs that exchange gas in the lungs (emphysema) and/or inflammation of the airways (chronic bronchitis). The most common cause of COPD is smoking, but other risk factors include second-hand smoke exposure, working in a dusty environment and genetic factors. It is currently the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Symptoms of COPD

  • Chronic cough, often with mucus
  • Shortness of breath that worsens with activity
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Fatigue

Diagnosing and Treating COPD

During your first visit, we will collect a thorough history and conduct a comprehensive exam. A breathing test (spirometry) where we measure your lung capacity as you blow through a tube attached to a machine will also be performed. Spirometry is required to make a diagnosis of COPD. Other tests, such as a chest x-ray or CT exam, may also be needed to confirm diagnosis or rule out other medical conditions.

While there is currently no cure for COPD, a combination of drugs and lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms. Treatments include:

  • A smoking cessation program can help smokers quit.
  • Our Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program provides education and methods to improve breathing.
  • Bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids are inhaled medicines that can open the airways, ease shortness of breath, and can reduce the frequency of “flare-ups” of breathing trouble that patients with COPD frequently experience.
  • A yearly flu vaccine helps to prevent lung infections, and a pneumococcal vaccine (pneumonia shot) can help prevent pneumonia/menigitis caused by strep.
  • Oxygen may be helpful for some patients if your oxygen levels are low.
  • A small proportion of patients can be treated with surgical procedures, including lung volume reduction surgery or even lung transplantation.

Zephyr Valve: A New Treatment

For patients with severe COPD or emphysema, a new treatment option known as the Zephyr® Endobrachial Valve System has proved successful in improving lung function, exercise capacity and quality of life. During this minimally invasive procedure, a doctor uses a bronchoscope (a thin tube with a camera), to place tiny valves in the airways of the lungs. These valves allow healthy portions of the lungs to expand, lifting pressure off the diaphragm to enhance breathing. 

Candidates for the Zephyr Valve are patients who have a diagnosis of emphysema confirmed by a CT scan and who have not smoked for at least four months.

Patients not eligible for the Zephyr Valve include those who:

  • Are unable to have a brochoscopic procedure.
  • Have an active lung infection.
  • Are allergic to nitinol, nickel, titanium or silicone.
  • Have not stopped smoking.
  • Have an air pocket greater than 1/3 of the size of the lung.

Michigan Medicine is one of only a few hospitals in Michigan to offer this treatment option for patients with COPD or emphysema.

COPD Research and Clinical Trials

Investigators at the University of Michigan are actively involved in helping to understand, diagnose, and develop new treatments for COPD. Cutting-edge research studies and clinical trials are regularly available to patients who qualify. View current COPD studies on UMHealthResearch.org or search for other studies on the UMHealthResearch.org home page.

Make an Appointment

To schedule an appointment to discuss COPD, emphysema or any other lung or breathing condition, call us at 734-763-7668, or 888-284-LUNG.