The Basics of Emphysema
Emphysema is one of the major obstructive lung diseases that contribute to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is the gradual destruction of the air sacs in the lungs, making it progressively more difficult to breathe. The tiny cluster-like air sacs in the lungs are responsible for bringing oxygen to the bloodstream. As emphysema progresses, the inner walls of the air sacs form holes weakening their internal structure. Thus, emphysema allows less oxygen to reach the bloodstream. Emphysema also destroys the elasticity of the airways leading to the air sacs.
As a result, the air sacs collapse trapping oxygen in the lungs. Sufferers of emphysema constantly feel short of breath and struggle to breathe. The lung damage from emphysema creates trapped air pockets, which prevent individuals from expelling air forcefully. The more air that is trapped, the worse lung function becomes, which makes breathing harder and pulmonary function test results decline.
Are There Stages of Emphysema?
While emphysema is not typically construed as a four-step disease like its umbrella disease, COPD, there is still a major staging system available that can help practitioners and patients diagnose and understand their disease. GOLD (Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease) put forth a set of criteria that helps divide emphysema cases into four progressive stages. To differentiate between the four stages, GOLD recommends monitoring the amount of air a person with emphysema can forcefully exhale in one second; this is called the forced expiratory volume or FEV1. The FEV1 is determined through a pulmonary function test administered by a pulmonologist. The possible results are divided into the severity of each stage of emphysema.
Stage 1: This is considered mild emphysema. The FEV1 must be greater than or equal to 80% of normal lung function.
Stage 2: As moderate emphysema, the FEV1 must be less than 80%, but greater than or equal to 50% of normal lung function.
Stage 3: Severe emphysema requires a FEV1 less than 50% of normal, but greater than or equal to 30%.
Stage 4: A FEV of less than 30% of normal, or of less than 50% or normal with low blood oxygen levels indicates very severe emphysema.
While the GOLD emphysema staging criteria is widely used by pulmonologists and physicians alike, it cannot be used to evaluate every person with emphysema as it fails to acknowledge how people with emphysema feel or their quality of life.
Treatment for Stage 1 Emphysema
Patients in stage 1 of emphysema have many options to improve their quality of life. The Lung Institute offers two adult stem cell therapies: bone marrow stem cell therapy and venous (blood-derived) stem cell therapy. The venous therapy can be performed on its own when needed. During these therapies, the adult stem cells go through a specific process to target the damaged tissue.
Adult stem cells can be utilized in any organ in the body since stem cells are able to mimic any possible differentiated cells. Since they are capable of self-renewing indefinitely, they can divide many times and can specialize to promote the healing of organs, such as lungs, while still sustaining the original cell.
Stage 1 of Emphysema Treatment Process
The stem cells are extracted from the patient’s body either through bone marrow or blood depending on the case. The stem cells are isolated by a trained professional in a clinical setting. The adult stem cells are quickly returned to the patient intravenously. Now, the stem cells will begin to promote the healing of lung tissue. With their ability to continually replicate, the lungs may grow stronger, and patients are able to breathe easier and live better.