Managing COPD: Lung transplants

People who have COPD can be candidates for lung transplants. Transplants can be recommended for people who have very severe symptoms, have difficulty breathing most of the time or have no relief of symptoms from medical therapy.

Lung transplantation involves giving a person with COPD a lung from a person who has recently died. A single-lung transplant is done more often than a double-lung transplant, and both can be effective methods to improve breathing for people with COPD.

Qualifications for surgery

Because there are not always enough organs donated, not everyone can qualify for or receive a lung transplant. To qualify, a person must:
  • have severe COPD
  • be under 65 years old
  • have stopped smoking
  • have family and friends who will help and encourage them during and after the surgery
  • be physically capable of undergoing surgery, follow-up medical treatment and participation in a pulmonary rehabilitation group
  • not currently have a drug or alcohol abuse problem

After meeting general criteria, a person must undergo a series of tests before being fully approved for a transplant. These tests include exercise tests, lung function tests, heart function tests, blood tests and psychological testing to determine good candidates for surgery. A person must also demonstrate mental and emotional stability and a commitment to follow medical demands after the transplant, such as commitment to taking medication every day.

If selected to receive a lung transplant, a person is placed on a waiting list. The wait for a lung varies. While on the waiting list, people are monitored by regular office visits, medical tests and are expected to participate in pulmonary rehabilitation and healthy eating routines.

Risks of surgery

Lung transplant surgery has serious risks, which include rejecting the transplanted lung and infections in the lung or other organs. The risks and benefits of lung transplantation surgery need to be discussed at length with health care professionals and family members.