Busting the Top 3 Myths about Lung Volume Reduction Surgery

LVRS-Quiz-QuestionLung Volume Reduction Surgery is often the last treatment option available for people suffering from severe emphysema or COPD. LVRS offers a greatly improved quality of life for qualifying patients for these patients.

During this procedure, 20 to30 percent of the lung area damaged by emphysema can be removed to allow the remaining tissue and surrounding muscles to work more efficiently, making breathing easier. By removing the damaged tissue, the diaphragm can relax and be able to move up and down while breathing. In turn, this enables the compressed lung tissue to re-expand so less air is trapped and high negative pressures, which cause the airways to collapse, can be reduced.

“While there’s no cure for severe emphysema or COPD, we can improve the lives of those patients who meet the criteria for this procedure,” according to Dr. Stephen Hazelrigg, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, who has performed lung-volume reduction surgery at Memorial Medical Center for more than 450 patients.

The rarity of this procedure can lead to a lot of questions for patients, as well as some myths. That’s why we looked to Dr. Hazelrigg to bust the three most prevalent myths about this life-changing procedure.

Myth: If part of my lung is removed, I’ll have harder time breathing.

Fact: The elimination of the damaged part of the lung improves breathing in qualified patients.

“When you have end-stage emphysema, the lungs actually get bigger,” Dr. Hazelrigg said. “They stretch, and that causes pushing down on the diaphragm. We go in through small incisions and take out the worst part of the lung. That allows the lungs to shrink down and the diaphragm to come up, and that helps people to breathe again.”

Myth: End-stage emphysema is just that—the end.

Fact: For patients with end-stage emphysema, there are treatment options that can improve life expectancy and make them more comfortable.

“While there’s no cure for severe emphysema or COPD, we can improve and prolong the lives of those patients who meet the criteria for this procedure,” Dr. Hazelrigg said.

Breathing in patients who undergo LVRS is typically improved by 40 to 50 percent. That means people who are on low levels of oxygen are able to come off oxygen entirely so they can go back to normal, daily activities.

“They won’t be running marathons, but they’ll get a lot better,” Dr. Hazelrigg said.

Myth: A highly specialized surgery like LVRS can only be done in St. Louis or Chicago.

Fact: There are only six hospitals accredited to perform lung volume reduction surgery—one of them is Memorial Medical Center right here in Springfield.

“We are one of only two hospitals in Illinois to be accredited to do this procedure, and that’s because we worked very hard to do everything we needed to receive that designation,” Dr. Hazelrigg said. “We get patients who come from all over to have this done.”

Dr. Hazelrigg and Memorial Medical Center have performed more than 450 LVRS procedures, but many more patients have been treated in other ways.

“Some patients are not determined to be qualified for LVRS, and for them we have other options, including medication, rehabilitation and other therapies,” he said.

Here’s what’s not a myth: Many LVRS patients are able to go back to their normal, daily tasks following surgery.

“Patients who quality for LVRS have often maxed out all other treatment options by the time they get to us. Despite undergoing major surgery, many of them experience a huge change within weeks,” Dr. Hazelrigg said. “I have several patients who are now able to workout at the gym or bowl several times a week.”