The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Could Aspirin help Emphysema?
A chronic lung disease like emphysema causes sufferers to look for answers in every possible place. Since emphysema is incurable and progressive, it is one of the many lung diseases that makes up the umbrella condition, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the third leading cause of death among Americans. Help in this search came from an unusual place; an ongoing multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis (MESA), which looks at people who show signs of cardiovascular disease, concluded that aspirin might be able to help those with emphysema.
The Effect of Aspirin on Emphysema
The study looked at various changes in the participants over a 10 year period. During interval visits with the physicians, a CT scan and a spectrum spirometer test were conducted. From the initial scans and tests to the final ones, a number of patients saw an increase in lung function, especially in those who consumed aspirin at least three times a week. Overall, this represents a less than one percent increase in lung function. However, people suffering from progressive diseases typically only see a decrease in lung function year after year. The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) categorizes the stages of emphysema by lung function with each stage equating to 20 percent less functionality. For someone with the disease to see any improvement over time is phenomenal, even if it is less than one percent.
Is there a Connection?
It is hard to say that the aspirin alone is causing the lung function improvement. David Mannino, MD, from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, had this to say about the findings: “A person who takes an aspirin a day is probably doing it for health reasons. They may also be living a healthier lifestyle. It’s not a simple question of whether they’re taking an aspirin a day, but whether it’s a surrogate measure for other things.” There is a possibility that talking aspirin every day is simply an indication of other healthy habits that may have helped stabilize the lungs. More studies need to be done to uncover the true connection between aspirin and emphysema.
Where Do Stem Cells Fit?
The patients that have been treated at the Lung Institute see similar results but typically to a greater extent. Over 70 percent of patients see an improvement in quality of life. Many patients see an increase or a stabilization in lung function. Of course, results are very dependent on variables like the specific condition, severity, medical history and other factors. However, any treatment that helps stop the progression of emphysema, even temporarily, is another chance for a person to potentially extend their life in hopes that a cure will be developed in her or his lifetime.