Emphysema and Longevity

My mother was a life-long smoker who quit in 1994.

She was exposed to second-hand smoke until 2006 when it was discovered she has emphysema (all her family stopped exposing her when this was revealed, since it would progress the disease. She is now 63 yrs old).

My question is, what is the maximum life expectancy of people with emphysema? Are there victims who live into their 80’s/90’s?? My mother until this moment only has had to rely on the occasional puffer.

Could she reasonably live to her 80’s/90’s?

The maximum life expectancy is whatever her maximum life expectancy is.

Emphysema is a bit tricky, and it doesn’t give us time frames of how it’s going to progress or if it is going to improve a bit or how it is going to affect a particular person the way some diseases might. As a once upon a time respiratory therapist I have seen many with emphysema flourish and do well until their late 80s but I have also seen relatively young, recently diagnosed patients die quickly. It really all depends on her.

A doctor could look at her chest X-rays and other lab results and give you a better indication of the severity in her case and the prognosis, but anyone saying she “will live X more years” or she will not live for X more years is just taking a wild guess.

There is a fair amount of data on mortality in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but most of it doesn’t distinguish between “emphysema” and the other main type of COPD termed “chronic bronchitis”. That’s not surprising since it’s not clear just how to distinguish them in the absence of things like chest CT scans and biopsies (i.e. things that are not routinely done, especially in studies looking at populations of people and their outcomes). In any case, the notion that there are two types of COPD is way oversimplified. Virtually all people with COPD have elements of both and it is a bit contrived to say that someone has one or the other.

All that being said, a few things seem to be clear. For starters, life expectancy in COPD is as much a function of a patient’s associated medical conditions (e.g. heart disease) as it is their COPD. Whatever the ultimate cause of death is, and whatever the associated medical conditions may be, women with COPD tend to survive longer than men with the disease.

On average, studies of survival in people with COPD, show that about half the people die in 10 years. However, that rate is closer to 80 percent if the person has quit smoking. And, at least one study (from Scandinavia) actually demonstrated an 80 percent survival over 20 years.

Bottom line seems to be that for COPD (not strictly “emphysema”), women who no longer smoke do the best, and may even have an 80 percent survival rate at 20 years.

My father and grandfather both had emphysema and lived to their 80’s, I don’t remember if my grandfather’s death was completely attributed to emphysema because he also had cancer. My father definitely died due to the emphysema, he had been in the hospital for pneumonia when one of the bullae in his lungs ruptured, he went downhill after that.

That said they were both diagnosed probably in their 60’s and lived another 20+ years. They may have lived longer if it weren’t for complications. Not smoking around her is a good step but stay away from her if you’re sick, too.

(Bolding mine)
I hope you mean 80% of people lived, if they’ve quit smoking :slight_smile: (unless you really did mean that quitting increases mortality in which case :eek:).

What about treatments such as that lung expansion surgery (where they remove part of the lung, which I guess gives the rest of the lung more room to expand and somehow helps)? Does that sort of thing increase survival, or “just” improve comfort / quality of life (“just” in quotes because those are pretty important, obviously).


Bascially just improved symptoms (more exercise capacity). Look here.

Another anecdotal-point. My father lived 15-20 years after being diagnosed with emphysema, and didn’t stop smoking until the last few years when he was on oxygen. He was a tough guy, though (he survived 5 years in a concentration camp). His quality of life didn’t seem to deteriorate much until the last couple of years; the worst part at the end (77 years old) seemed to be that anxiety that comes with the feeling of oxygen starvation.

PS to KarlGauss: Always liked your posts, and an Eliot tag puts you over the top.:slight_smile:

Thank you all for your responses.

My mother is definitely doing better than others in my family. Her mother died from emphysema in her late 60’s, 5 yrs after being diagnosed. She quite the day it was discovered, but I guess it was too little too late as after the diagnosis she went immediately on oxygen and then went steadily down-hill after that.

And I had an uncle (non-blood) who died last summer from it. But he smoked (at least occasionally) until the day he died - approx. 5 yrs after he found out.

To switch the question around a little bit (it’s my freakin’ thread so there :p) what is the average age of a diagnosis of emphysema? And what are the *youngest *ages this disease has shown up in smokers?

Well, I’ll state without references that emphysema doesn’t usually show up before around age 50 even in smokers.

More importantly, when emphysema does occur in someone who’s younger, say in their 30’s or even their 20’s, then, even if they’re a smoker, there’s a strong likelihood they actually have a disease called Alpha 1-Anti-trypsin deficiency. Despite its mouthful of a name, it’s actually not all that rare.