Bakersfield Heart Hospital has begun offering a minimally invasive procedure approved last year for treatment of emphysema.

The procedure, known as endoscopic lung volume reduction, uses the relatively simple process of bronchoscopy to implant valves that block off diseased parts of lungs.

By diverting air away from damaged areas where it would otherwise get trapped, the hospital said, the valves allow healthier areas of the lung to expand and take in more air.

Emphysema is a progressive, severe form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease affecting some 15 million people in the United States. It limits their ability to perform simple tasks, frequently causing shortness of breath.

Previous treatments have required lung volume reduction surgery or lung transplantation, both of which are considerably more invasive than the new endoscopic approach approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under the "breakthrough device" status in July of 2018.

The new procedure places an average of four to six tiny Zephyr Valves into a patient's airways.

Randomized clinical trials reviewed by the FDA found the valves reduced patients' shortness of breath, improved lung function and quality of life, Bakersfield Heart Hospital said in a news release. It said more than 15,000 patients have been treated with the valves worldwide since 2007.

"We are very excited to bring this new treatment option to our COPD patients in Central California because until this treatment, these patients had very few options," Dr. Rajan Goyal, of Bakersfield Heart Hospital, said in the release. "Even despite taking their medications, these patients live a poor quality of life, struggling with each breath."

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