Skip to Content

COPD (Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis)

Exposure to cigarette smoking and other airborne pollutants can irritate and inflame the lungs over time. This inflammation can eventually block airflow and lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.

A progressive lung disease, COPD frequently develops from two common conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Both contribute to labored breathing and a host of other health problems from heart disease to high blood pressure. Emphysema results when the air sacs (alveoli) in the lung no longer function due to long-term exposure to particulate matter such as tobacco smoke. Chronic bronchitis is caused by ongoing inflammation of the air passages (bronchial tubes), which makes inhaling and exhaling difficult.

Emphysema can weaken the lung tissue, causing large areas of the lung(s) to balloon. These large empty airspaces of connective tissue, known as giant bullae, serve to hinder normal lung function. Giant bullae may also begin to compress healthy lung tissue and constrict airflow. Individuals with this rare condition are at particularly high risk for a collapsed lung (spontaneous pneumothorax).

Symptoms and Diagnosis of COPD

Increased shortness of breath, persistent coughing and severe chest pain in patients with severe emphysema may signal the presence of giant bullae. NorthShore’s thoracic surgeons routinely provide expert surgical consultation for this serious disease.

Your NorthShore physician specialist may require you undergo several imaging tests to accurately diagnosis your condition, including:

  • Chest X-ray
  • CT Scan
  • Lung Sonography
  • Thoracic Ultrasound

Surgical Treatment Options for COPD

Giant bullae can take up considerable space in the chest cavity. Reducing lung volume to improve function is the primary goal of surgical intervention. With extensive experience performing VATS, our thoracic surgery team routinely employs this minimally invasive technique to remove giant bullae (bullectomy) and other diseased portions of the lung to allow healthy lung tissue to better function. This procedure helps to reduce the risk of collapsing a lung as well as improve breathing and general quality of life.

For More Information

To schedule an appointment with one of our thoracic surgeons, please call 847.570.2868.