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What You Need to Know about Emphysema Progression

19 Jul 2016
| Under Disease Education, Emphysema, Lung Disease | Posted by | 7 Comments
What You Need to Know about Emphysema Progression

Living with a chronic lung disease, such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can present many challenges. On top of trying to cope with your condition, navigating the healthcare industry, finding the right emphysema treatment plan and fully understanding your condition may seem nearly impossible. Here’s what you need to know about emphysema and emphysema progression.

What is emphysema?

Along with chronic bronchitis, emphysema is one of the major obstructive lung diseases under the umbrella category of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Emphysema gradually damages the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs, making it progressively more difficult to breathe. The tiny air sacs are responsible for bringing oxygen to the bloodstream. As emphysema progresses, holes form in the inner walls of the air sacs, which weakens their internal structure. The elasticity of the airways that lead to the air sacs is also damaged, resulting in air sacs that collapse and leave oxygen in the lungs. When the air sacs collapse and trap old air inside the lungs, it becomes difficult to breathe in fresh, oxygen-rich air. People with emphysema struggle to breathe and experience difficulty receiving enough oxygen. Because emphysema worsens over time, emphysema progression will occur.

What are emphysema symptoms?

What You Need to Know about Emphysema Progression

Because emphysema progression is typically gradual, people may experience emphysema symptoms for years before their symptoms cause problems. However, people with emphysema may have symptom flare-ups caused by a trigger, such as allergens, airborne pollutants, chemical fumes, perfumes, infections or illnesses and others. Seeing your doctor regularly and avoiding your triggers is essential.

Emphysema symptoms include:

  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath (even while at rest)

How is emphysema progression determined?

While every person with emphysema is unique, emphysema progression is determined through tests and staging systems. These tests and staging systems are used as a guide and a way to predict emphysema progression. One test is the pulmonary function test (PFT). A pulmonary function test can be done with spirometry or plethsmography. A spirometer is a device with a mouthpiece attached to a small electronic machine. Plethysmography happens when you sit or stand inside an air-tight box that looks like a short, square telephone booth to do the tests. This test measures how well your lungs and your treatments are working.

GOLD Staging System

The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) came up with the GOLD staging system. GOLD uses the forced expiratory volume (FEV1) test, which is the amount of air a person can forcefully exhale in one second, to place emphysema progression into stages:

  • Stage 1: Very mild emphysema with a FEV1 about 80 percent or more of normal.
  • Stage 2: Moderate emphysema with a FEV1 between 50 and 80 percent of normal.
  • Stage 3: Severe emphysema, with FEV1 between 30 and 50 percent of normal.
  • Stage 4: Very severe emphysema, with a lower FEV1 than Stage 3 or those with Stage 3 FEV1 and low blood oxygen levels.

As the stage number increases, the emphysema progression also worsens.

BODE Index

Some scientists believe there are other ways to measure emphysema progression. These scientists came up with the BODE Index. BODE stands for body mass, airflow obstruction, dyspnea and exercise capacity. The BODE Index takes into account how emphysema affects your life.

The body mass index (BMI) is used to determine if you’re underweight, overweight or obese. Airflow obstruction refers to your FEV1 score, which is similar to the GOLD system. Simply put, dyspnea means difficulty breathing, so measuring dyspnea can help determine emphysema progression. Exercise capacity refers to exercise tolerance. Many people with emphysema take a six minute walk test to evaluate their level of exercise tolerance. Combined, these measurements make up the BODE Index and can be used to determine emphysema progression or an approximate life expectancy.

Are there emphysema treatments?

What You Need to Know about Emphysema Progression

Emphysema, chronic bronchitis and COPD are all chronic, progressive lung diseases, meaning they will worsen over time. While there isn’t a cure for emphysema, treatment options and emphysema therapies are available to help manage symptoms. Because emphysema progression is different from person to person, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the best emphysema treatment plan for you. Your doctor may recommend medications such as inhalers, corticosteroids, vitamins, diet and exercise modifications, pulmonary rehabilitation or oxygen therapy.

Some people with emphysema have found relief from their symptoms through cellular therapy. Cellular therapy for emphysema uses adult cells, or cells derived from the patient’s own body. Lung Institute’s medical staff extracts the cells, separates them in the on-site lab and then returns the cells to the patient intravenously. Once returned to the patient, the cells can promote healing within the lungs. Many of our patients report an improved quality of life and an ability to breathe easier. If you or a loved one has emphysema, chronic bronchitis or COPD and would like to learn more about cellular therapy options, contact us at (800) 729-3065.


  1. Pingback: Emphysema Facts You Need to Know | Lung Institute

  2. PB

    2 years ago

    Dear Carolyn,

    Thanks for your question. A recent study produced by the clinic indicated that 82 percent of patients saw an increase in quality of life after cellular treatment, and 60 percent of those who took a pulmonary function test reported an increase in lung function. However, as with any medical treatment, there is a percentage of patients that don’t respond to treatment or see as much improvement. Booster treatments are available, and for some patients, a booster treatment helps them see more improvements or continued improvements to their overall quality of life. You can read more about booster treatments by clicking here. Feel free to contact us at (855) 313-1149 to speak with your patient coordinator about booster treatment options. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  3. Carolyn Fales

    2 years ago

    I have had the three day treatment last February with no improvement. Someone mentioned the possibility of a booster. For me coming up with the original cost of $7000 for the 1st treatment was near impossible. What would the cost of a booster be? There ought to be some consideration due to the fact that I went through the first three treatments with no improvement.

  4. PB

    2 years ago

    Hello Irene,

    We have clinics nationwide, including in Nashville, TN; Scottsdale, AZ; Tampa, FL; Dallas, TX; and Pittsburgh, PA. The closest clinic location to you is the Lung Institute clinic in Pittsburgh, PA. Feel free to contact us to learn more about cellular treatment options by calling (855) 313-1149. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  5. Irene dephillipo

    2 years ago

    I live in Audubon nj where is closest clinic

  6. PB

    2 years ago

    Dear Diana,

    Thanks for your comment and questions. We have clinics located nationwide. The closest Lung Institute clinic to the Michigan City or Indiana area is in Pittsburgh, PA. We also have clinics in Nashville, TN; Tampa, FL; Scottsdale, AZ and Dallas, TX. Some people begin to feel improvement to their lung health quickly after treatment, and for others, improvements are more gradual. Most people see improvement around 3 to 6 months after treatment. We have treated people at many ages. You can read more about cellular treatment basics by clicking here. We’re happy to answer any questions you have regarding cellular treatment options, so feel free to contact us at (855) 313-1149. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Kind Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  7. Diana

    2 years ago

    I would like to know if this is in the Michigan City, Indiana area. How it works and how fast it works. does age even matter? It sounds so good to be true!

* Every patient is given a Patient Satisfaction Survey shortly after treatment. Responses to the 11-question survey are aggregated to determine patient satisfaction with the delivery of treatment.

^ Quality of Life Survey data measured the patient’s self-assessed quality of life and measurable quality of improvement at three months.

All claims made regarding the efficacy of Lung Institute's treatments as they pertain to pulmonary conditions are based solely on anecdotal support collected by Lung Institute. Individual conditions, treatment and outcomes may vary and are not necessarily indicative of future results. Testimonial participation is voluntary. Lung Institute does not pay for or script patient testimonials.

As required by Texas state law, the Lung Institute Dallas Clinic has received Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval from MaGil IRB, now Chesapeake IRB, which is fully accredited by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Program (AAHRPP), for research protocols and procedures. The Lung Institute has implemented these IRB approved standards at all of its clinics nationwide. Approval indicates that we follow rigorous standards for ethics, quality, and protections for human research.

Each patient is different. Results may vary.