Reasons You Might Need a Lung Transplant

People need lung transplants when their lungs can no longer perform their vital function of exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide. Lung transplant candidates have end-stage lung disease and are expected to live less than two years. They often require continuous oxygen and are extremely fatigued from the lack of oxygen. Their lungs are too diseased to be managed medically, and no other kind of surgery will help them.

Several different diseases can lead to end-stage lung failure:

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be caused by asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Over time, individuals with COPD slowly lose their ability to breathe. Symptoms of COPD range from chronic cough and sputum production to severe, disabling shortness of breath.

Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency

Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is a hereditary condition in which a lack of alpha-1 antitrypsin—a protein that protects the lungs—results in early-onset lung disease. Smoking greatly increases this risk. The first symptoms of alpha-1 related emphysema often appear between ages 20 and 40 and include shortness of breath following activity, decreased exercise capacity, and wheezing.

Interstitial Lung Diseases

Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) is a general term that includes a variety of chronic lung disorders such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, eosinophilic granuloma, Goodpasture’s syndrome, idiopathic pulmonary hemosiderosis and Wegener’s granulomatosis. When a person has ILD, the lung is affected in four ways:  1) The lung tissue becomes damaged, 2) the walls of the air sacs in the lung become inflamed, 3) scarring begins in the interstitium (tissue between the air sacs), and 4) the lung becomes stiff.


Bronchiectasis is the irreversible widening of the airways. As airways widen, they become less rigid and more prone to collapse. It also becomes more difficult to clear away secretions. Bronchiectasis can be present at birth, or it can develop later as a result of injury or other diseases (most often cystic fibrosis). It can occur at any age but most often begins in childhood. Symptoms of bronchiectasis include coughing, fever, weakness, weight loss, and fatigue.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF)

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that is recessively inherited, meaning both parents need to have the defective gene. Approximately 30,000 Americans have CF, and about 12 million carry the gene but are not affected by it. CF patients often have respiratory problems including bronchitis,  bronchiectasis,  pneumonia, sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), nasal polyps (growths inside the nose), or pneumothorax (collapsed lung). Symptoms of CF include frequent wheezing or pneumonia, chronic cough with thick mucus, persistent diarrhea, salty-tasting skin, and poor growth.