We evaluated the use of a lateral thoracoscopic approach for lung reduction surgery in patients with diffuse emphysema. Sixty-seven patients with a mean age of 61.9 years underwent operation. Operative side was determined by preoperative imaging. The procedures were laser ablation in 10 patients and stapler resection in 57 patients. Ten patients, including six of the 10 patients in the laser-only group had poor outcome (death or hospitalization longer than 30 days), leading us to abandon the laser technique. Of the remaining 57 patients undergoing primary stapled resection, duration of chest tube placement averaged 13 days (range 3 to 53 days) with a mean hospital stay of 17 days (range 6 to 99 days). Seven patients required ventilation for longer than 72 hours, six patients underwent conversion of the procedure to open thoracotomy, four patients acquired arrhythmias, and three patients were treated for empyema. There was one early death (1.7%), from cardiopulmonary failure. Forty patients returned for 3-month evaluation. Significant (p < 0.0001) improvements were seen in forced vital capacity (2.69 L after vs 2.26 L before) and forced expiration volume in 1 second (1.04 L after vs 0.82 L before), with 25 of 40 patients (63%) showing an improvement of more than 20%. Lung volume measures, in particular residual volume, fell significantly. Arterial blood gas analysis revealed that carbon dioxide tension fell significantly in patients with preoperative hypercapnia (carbon dioxide tension >45 mm Hg, p = 0.018). Six-minute walk test results improved (894 feet after vs 784 feet before, p = 0.002), and symptomatic benefit was confirmed by significant improvement in the dyspnea index. The combination of both hypercapnia and reduced single-breath diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide was significantly more frequent (p = 0.0026) and was 86% specific (5 of 6 patients) in predicting serious postoperative risk. We conclude that the lateral thoracoscopic surgical approach to diffuse emphysema offers significant improvement in pulmonary mechanics and functional impairment. Patients with a combination of hypercapnia and reduced single-breath diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide should not be considered for this procedure because of significant perioperative risk.