What Are Hyperexpanded Lungs?

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Hyperexpanded lungs, or long lungs, is a condition in which the lungs have overinflated, causing them to grow beyond their usual size. This condition can cause respiratory problems, especially when exhaling. A person with hyperexpanded lungs cannot fully exhale, which leaves air trapped inside the lungs.

Out with the Old, In with the New

People with hyperexpanded lungs can exhale only a small percentage of air with each breath they take. This leaves old air trapped inside, taking up most of the lungs' air capacity. The old air becomes stale and stagnant over time; the more old air a person has trapped inside her lungs, the less fresh air can come in.

Oxygen and CO2 Exchange

Without new air, the lungs are unable to provide good oxygen to the bloodstream. Having too much old air in your system also can be harmful because it can disrupt how quickly the lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. When your body is unable to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide at its normal pace, your blood gas levels can become irregular.

COPD and emphysema

One of the leading causes of hyperexpanded lungs is an illness known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD includes many conditions, such as emphysema. Emphysema can cause the airways and air sacs in the lungs to lose elasticity as well as damage the walls between the air sacs. This damage can cause air sacs to merge and become larger, leaving the lungs with fewer air sacs to carry oxygen.

COPD, or COPD-related illnesses, is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. As of 2009, about 12 million Americans are diagnosed with COPD.

Other Causes

A person with hyperexpanded lungs doesn't necessarily have COPD. Sometimes long lungs can result from a structural abnormality that sometimes occurs in tall, slender individuals. People who are diagnosed with asthma also can have the same symptoms of hyperexpanded lungs, including elongated lungs and respiratory problems.

Corrective Surgery

Long volume reduction surgery (LVRS) is a common procedure for people with hyperexpanded lungs. LVRS involves removing 25 to 30 percent of poorly functioning, space-occupying lung tissue in each lung. By reducing the size of each lung, patients are able to breathe easier and the lungs are able to work more efficiently. People with emphysema are good candidates for this procedure.