Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is a chronic, ongoing, progressive disease of the lower respiratory tract in the lungs. The hallmark of the disease is difficulty with breathing that slowly gets worse over time. Emphysema is a seriously disabling disease with the potential for major complications and is often eventually fatal.
In healthy lungs, air and oxygen pass through the upper respiratory tract and into the bronchioles and the alveoli in the lungs. The alveoli are tiny hollow sack-like structures where oxygen is absorbed in to the bloodstream. However, long-term inhalation of smoke or other irritants results in a loss of elasticity in the bronchioles and alveoli and destruction of the walls between alveoli and reduces the effectiveness of breathing and the intake of oxygen.
Emphysema develops most often as a result of smoking, but can also occur from long-term inhalation of irritants into the lungs, such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust. It can also develop as a result of the long-term inhalation of second-hand smoke. Rarely, some people may develop emphysema due to a hereditary condition, in which they are born lacking an important protein that protects the lungs. This condition is known as alpha 1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency-related emphysema. Smoking greatly increases the severity of AAT deficiency-related emphysema.
The longer the lungs are exposed to smoke or irritants, the higher the risk for developing emphysema. The disease is usually diagnosed in middle-age or elderly people, but it can happen younger in life.
The symptoms of emphysema include shortness of breath and wheezing, an abnormal whistling sound made by the lungs during breathing. Complications of emphysema can be serious, even life threatening, and result in additional symptoms. For more details on complications and symptoms, refer to symptoms of emphysema.
Making a diagnosis of emphysema begins with taking a thorough medical history, including symptoms, smoking history and exposure to lung irritants. A physical examination is also performed and includes listening with a stethoscope to the sounds that lungs make during respiration. Lung sounds that may point to a diagnosis of emphysema include wheezing and decreased lung sounds.
Diagnostic testing can include lung function tests, such as a spirometry, which measures how much air is moved in and out of the lungs. A chest X-ray and CT scan of the chest can evaluate such factors as the presence of other conditions that may occur with or worsen emphysema, such as pneumonia and congestive heart failure. An arterial blood gas tests a sample of blood taken from an artery for many parameters of effective breathing, including the oxygen level in the blood. Oxygen levels in the blood can also be quickly tested using a non-invasive pulse oximeter, a device that clips painlessly to a fingertip.
It is possible that a diagnosis of emphysema can be missed or delayed because the disease progresses gradually. For more information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of emphysema.
There is no cure for emphysema, but it can be treated to minimize symptoms and progression of the disease. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of emphysema. ...more »
Emphysema is a chronic, ongoing, progressive disease of the lower respiratory tract in the lungs. It is one type of or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The hallmark of emphysema is difficulty with breathing that slowly gets worse over time. It is a seriously disabling disease with the potential for major complications and is often eventually fatal. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, emphysema/COPD is a major cause of disability, and it's the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.
The disease develops most often as a result of smoking, but can also occur from long-term inhalation of other irritants into the lungs and rarely, and rarely due to hereditary factors. Emphysema most often develops when irritants are breathed into the respiratory tract and into the bronchioles, small hollow passageways that branch off the main airway from the mouth and nose. Normally, air and needed oxygen pass through the bronchioles into the alveoli, tiny hollow sack-like structures in the lungs where oxygen is absorbed in to the bloodstream. When air is mixed with smoke or irritants, it can damage the lungs and their ability to take in enough oxygen. Long-term inhalation of irritants results in a loss of elasticity in the bronchioles and alveoli, destruction of the walls between alveoli. The longer the lungs are exposed to smoke or irritants, the more likely it is that you will develop emphysema. Emphysema is usually diagnosed in middle-age or elderly people, but it can happen younger in life. It is also more common in men than women. ...more »
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Emphysema: Broader Related Topics
Types of Emphysema
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