Can you live with one Lung?


Can you live with one lung

The answer is YES !!! You can live with one Lung

Living a one-lunged life may sound scary but the good news is you can totally live with one lung. Not only that, you can actually thrive with just one lung. A normal life after pneumonectomy is a reality.

Many diseases of the lungs may sometimes require a radical surgical treatment in the form of complete removal of one lung from a person’s body. This surgery is called a “Pneumonectomy”. So you will be living a life with just one lung after this surgery.

The first response of a patient and their family on hearing about such a surgery is that; Is it even possible to live with only one lung? Isn’t it supposed to cut down a person’s breathing capacity into half?  People surviving with a single kidney is often heard of, but living with a single lung; that is rare. Patients often ask us whether the removed lung will re-grow, like in case of Liver? What will happen to the empty space in the chest after removal of lung ?

Although it is not possible for the lung to re-grow but the body does compensate by slow and gradual expansion of the other remaining lung towards the void. Post pneumonectomy patients in due time reach about 70-80 percent of their pre surgery lung function. The heart also drifts towards the post pneumonectomy space. A fluid fills the residual space in the chest cavity which slowly gelatinizes into a proteinaceous material and the chest scaffold collapses slightly. This is how mother nature helps to obliterate the “empty space” left behind by removal of a lung.

But before performing such a major surgery your surgeon will thoroughly evaluate you to decide whether you are fit or not. This mainly involves blood tests, radiological investigations and a complete cardio-pulmonary evaluation. Assessment of the pulmonary reserves especially in regards to a lung resection is the most vital. Tests like Pulmonary function test (PFT), Diffusing capacity for Carbon Monoxide (DLCO), Lung Perfusion scan and Cardio-pulmonary exercise testing (CPET) will help the surgeon to reach to a conclusion if a Pneumonectomy can be safely done or not.

These days a Pneumonectomy can be performed by minimally invasive techniques like Video Assisted Thoracoscopic Surgery (VATS) or Robotic Surgery. The whole surgery can be done by tiny key-hole incisions on the chest. There would be no need for a big cut on the chest or cutting muscles or rib spreading. But the approach for surgery would be decided by your surgeon on a case to case basis.

Once a patient has recovered from the surgery, they can live a pretty normal life. Living with one lung doesn’t usually affect everyday tasks or life expectancy, though a person with one lung wouldn’t be able to exercise as strenuously as a healthy person with two lungs. For instance climbing stairs may make such patients more short of breath as compared to normal people. However that also varies from patient to patient.

People have run marathon with a single lung, for example this “one lung runner”

Similarly 46 year old Dave has 1 lung. But it didn’t let it stop him from completing the Prudential RideLondon 100 mile cycle in 2016.

Pope Francis also lost one of his lung to a childhood pneumonia. But he carries on his papal duties as efficiently as other cardinals.

So it is definitely possible to live a normal life with a single lung provided the remaining lung is maintained in good health. One can do that by avoiding smoking and environmental pollution. Also by being up to date with Pneumonia and Influenza vaccines to guard against any serious lung infections. It is vital that if you or anyone you know needs removal of a lung, you should research well. You should get yourself treated only by a Surgeon with considerable experience in doing this complicated surgery.

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