Emphysema: How You Get It and How to Fight It

IMAGEEmphysema is a chronic respiratory condition most often caused by the destruction of lung tissue by toxins contained in cigarette smoke . This, in turn, leads to chronic overinflation of the lungs, greatly decreasing their ability to function. Like chronic bronchitis , emphysema is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that evolves over a period of time. Emphysema results in destruction of the alveoli, the tiny air sacs in the lungs. Oxygen is delivered to the lungs and carbon dioxide is carried from the lungs across the walls of the alveoli. As more and more alveoli are damaged, it becomes harder and harder for the lungs to function, which can cause these symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Increasing difficulty exercising
  • Great difficulty exhaling
  • Chronic coughing
  • Cough with mucus production
As the disease progresses, breathing becomes increasingly difficult. In its most severe stage, virtually any physical activity becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible.

What Causes Emphysema?

Emphysema is usually the result of long term exposure to harmful particles or gases, such as:
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Occupational dusts and chemicals
  • Indoor air pollutants, such as fuel burned in confined spaces
  • Outdoor air pollutants

Diagnosis and Treatment

When a person complains of the chronic presence of the symptoms of emphysema, a physical exam and various lung function tests (spirometry) are done to confirm the diagnosis. Chest x-rays may also be done. Since, at present, emphysema cannot be cured, the goals of treatment are to:
  • Relieve the symptoms of the disease
  • Prevent further loss of lung function

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