Experimental coils help emphysema patients exercise

By Laura Mize • Published: April 6th, 2016
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Exercise is an important part of staying healthy, but it can be quite a challenge for people with breathing problems.

That’s because we use more oxygen during exercise than when we’re still. A recent study published by French researchers in the Journal of the American Medical Association sheds light on an experimental therapy that may help people with emphysema, a disease that damages the air sacs in the lungs. The study found that the experimental therapy allows many emphysema patients to significantly increase their exercise endurance.

The therapy involves placing metal coils in the lungs. The coils pull together the diseased and poorly functioning air sacs. Drawing these damaged air sacs into one or a few areas helps the healthier segments of the lung function better.

The coil technique mimics the effects of surgery to reduce lung volume, which also allows improved function of the healthiest segments. But the surgery had high complication rates. So far, the coils seem to cause far fewer problems.

In the exercise study, about one-third of patients who received the coils were able to walk significantly farther in six minutes than they could before coil insertion. Six months after implantation, their distance had improved by at least 54 meters. A smaller group of patients without the coils also saw improvement.

Patients with coils also had better overall quality of life and fewer complications of emphysema, researchers found. Such complications include heart problems and collapsed lungs.

More testing of the technique is needed, but the researchers said lung coils appear to offer better outcomes than existing emphysema treatments and pose less risk than surgery.