Advertisement

Emphysema and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Emphysema


DEFINITION

Emphysema gradually damages the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs, making you progressively more short of breath. Emphysema is one of several diseases known collectively as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Smoking is the leading cause of emphysema.

Your lungs' alveoli are clustered like bunches of grapes. In emphysema, the inner walls of the air sacs weaken and eventually rupture creating one larger air space instead of many small ones. This reduces the surface area of the lungs and, in turn, the amount of oxygen that reaches your bloodstream.

When you exhale, the damaged alveoli don't work properly and old air becomes trapped, leaving no room for fresh, oxygen-rich air to enter. Treatment may slow the progression of emphysema, but it can't reverse the damage.

SYMPTOMS

You can have emphysema for many years without noticing any signs or symptoms. The main symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath, which usually begins gradually. You may start avoiding activities that cause you to be short of breath, so the symptom doesn't become a problem until it starts interfering with daily tasks. Emphysema eventually causes shortness of breath even while you're at rest.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you've had unexplained shortness of breath for several months, especially if it's getting worse or it's interfering with your daily activities. Don't try to attribute it to your deconditioning or age or weight. Seek immediate medical attention if:

  • You're so short of breath, you can't climb stairs
  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray with exertion
  • You're not mentally alert

CAUSES

The main cause of emphysema is long-term exposure to airborne irritants, including:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Marijuana smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Manufacturing fumes

Rarely, emphysema is caused by an inherited deficiency of a protein that protects the elastic structures in the lungs. It's called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency emphysema.

RISK FACTORS

Factors that increase your risk of developing emphysema include:

  • Smoking. Emphysema is most likely to develop in cigarette smokers, but cigar and pipe smokers also are susceptible. The risk for all types of smokers increases with the number of years and amount of tobacco smoked.
  • Age. Although the lung damage that occurs in emphysema develops gradually, most people with tobacco-related emphysema begin to experience symptoms of the disease between the ages of 40 and 60.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke, also known as passive or environmental tobacco smoke, is smoke that you inadvertently inhale from someone else's cigarette, pipe or cigar. Being around secondhand smoke increases your risk of emphysema.
  • Occupational exposure to fumes or dust. If you breathe fumes from certain chemicals or dust from grain, cotton, wood or mining products, you're more likely to develop emphysema. This risk is even greater if you smoke.
  • Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollution. Breathing indoor pollutants, such as fumes from heating fuel, as well as outdoor pollutants car exhaust, for instance increases your risk of emphysema.

COMPLICATIONS

People who have emphysema are also more likely to develop:

  • Collapsed lung (Pneumothorax). A collapsed lung can be life-threatening in people who have severe emphysema, because the function of their lungs is already so compromised. This is uncommon but serious when it occurs.
  • Heart problems. Emphysema can increase the pressure in the arteries that connect the heart and lungs. This can cause a condition called Cor pulmonale, in which a section of the heart expands and weakens.
  • Large holes in the lungs (giant bullae). Some people with emphysema develop empty spaces in the lungs called bullae. Giant bullae can be as large as half the lung. In addition to reducing the amount of space available for the lung to expand, giant bullae can increase your risk of Pneumothorax.

TESTS AND DIAGNOSIS

To determine if you have emphysema, your doctor may recommend a variety of tests.

Imaging tests

A chest X-ray can help support a diagnosis of advanced emphysema and rule out other causes of shortness of breath. But the chest X-ray can also show normal findings if you have emphysema. Computerized tomography (CT) scans combine X-ray images taken from many different directions to create cross-sectional views of internal organs. Your doctor may want you to have a CT scan if you're considering lung surgery.

Lab tests

Blood taken from an artery in your wrist can be tested to determine how well your lungs transfer oxygen into, and remove carbon dioxide from, your bloodstream.

Lung function tests

These noninvasive tests measure how much air your lungs can hold and how well the air flows in and out of your lungs. They can also measure how well your lungs deliver oxygen to your bloodstream. One of the most common tests uses a simple instrument called a spirometer, which you blow into.

TREATMENTS AND DRUGS

Emphysema can't be cured, but treatments can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Medications

Depending upon the severity of your symptoms, your doctor might suggest:

  • Bronchodilators. These drugs can help relieve coughing, shortness of breath and breathing problems by relaxing constricted airways, but they're not as effective in treating emphysema as they are in treating Asthma or chronic Bronchitis.
  • Inhaled steroids. Corticosteroid drugs inhaled as aerosol sprays may help relieve shortness of breath. Prolonged use may weaken your bones and increase your risk of high blood pressure, Cataracts and Diabetes.
  • Antibiotics. If you develop a bacterial infection, like acute Bronchitis or Pneumonia, antibiotics are appropriate.

Therapy

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation. A pulmonary rehabilitation program can teach you breathing exercises and techniques that may help reduce your breathlessness and improve your ability to exercise.
  • Nutrition therapy. You'll also receive advice about proper nutrition. In the early stages of emphysema, many people need to lose weight, while people with late-stage emphysema often need to gain weight.
  • Supplemental oxygen. If you have severe emphysema with low blood oxygen levels, using oxygen regularly at home and when you exercise may provide some relief. Many people use oxygen 24 hours a day. It's usually administered via narrow tubing that fits into your nostrils.

Surgery

Depending on the severity of your emphysema, your doctor may suggest one or more different types of surgery, including:

  • Lung volume reduction surgery. In this procedure, surgeons remove small wedges of damaged lung tissue. Removing the diseased tissue helps the remaining lung tissue expand and work more efficiently and helps improve breathing.
  • Lung transplant. Lung transplantation is an option if you have severe emphysema and other options have failed.

LIFESTYLE AND HOME REMEDIES

To prevent emphysema, don't smoke and avoid breathing secondhand smoke. Wear a mask to protect your lungs if you work with chemical fumes or dust.

COPING AND SUPPORT

The shortness of breath associated with emphysema can severely limit your ability to participate in daily activities. Many people become withdrawn and depressed. To help you cope with the changes emphysema has made in your life, you might want to:

  • Express your feelings. Your emphysema may limit some of your activities and affect your family's plans and routines in ways you can't always anticipate. If you and your family can talk openly about each other's needs, you'll be better able to meet the challenges of living with this disease. Be alert to changes in your mood and your relations with others, and don't be afraid to seek counseling.
  • Consider a support group. You may also want to consider joining a support group for people with emphysema. Although support groups aren't for everyone, they can be a good source of information about new treatments and coping strategies. And it can be encouraging to spend time with other people in circumstances similar to yours. If you're interested in a support group, talk to your doctor. Or contact your local chapter of the American Lung Association.

More Latest Articles

Endometriosis and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs and Complications of Endometriosis

Symptoms Causes & Risk Factors Diagnosis & Tests Treatment & drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Endometriosis is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus the endometrium grows outside your uterus (endometrial implant). Endometriosis most commonly involves y...
>>>Continue Reading...

Encephalitis and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment & drugs and Complications of Encephalitis

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis & Tests Treatment and drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. Viral infections are the most common cause of the condition.

Encephalitis can cause Flu-like symptoms, such as a Fever or severe headache. It can also cau...
>>>Continue Reading...

Bell's palsy and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs and Complications of Bell's palsy

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment Drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Bell's palsy causes sudden weakness in your facial muscles. This makes half of your face appear to droop. Your smile is one-sided, and your eye on that side resists closing.

Bell's palsy, al...
>>>Continue Reading...

Factitious disorder and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Factitious disorder

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment and drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Factitious disorder is a serious mental disorder in which someone deceives others by appearing sick, by purposely getting sick, or by self-injury. Factitious disorder symptoms can range from mild (slight exagg...
>>>Continue Reading...

Bell's palsy and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Bell's palsy

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Bell's palsy causes sudden weakness in your facial muscles. This makes half of your face appear to droop. Your smile is one-sided, and your eye on that side resists closing.

Bell's palsy, al...
>>>Continue Reading...

Eisenmenger syndrome and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Eisenmenger syndrome

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Eisenmenger syndrome is a complication of a heart defect that you're born with (congenital). A heart defect that causes a hole (shunt) to develop between two chambers of your heart is the most common cause...
>>>Continue Reading...

Pulmonary embolism and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Pulmonary embolism

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs. In most cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from the legs or, rarely, other parts of ...
>>>Continue Reading...

Emphysema and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Emphysema

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Emphysema gradually damages the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs, making you progressively more short of breath. Emphysema is one of several diseases known collectively as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease...
>>>Continue Reading...

Encephalitis and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Encephalitis

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. Viral infections are the most common cause of the condition.

Encephalitis can cause Flu-like symptoms, such as a Fever or severe headache. It can also cau...
>>>Continue Reading...

Encopresis and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Encopresis

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Encopresis, also called stool holding or soiling, occurs when your child resists having bowel movements, causing impacted stool to collect in the colon and rectum. When your child's colon is full of impact...
>>>Continue Reading...

Encopresis and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Encopresis

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Encopresis, also called stool holding or soiling, occurs when your child resists having bowel movements, causing impacted stool to collect in the colon and rectum. When your child's colon is full of impact...
>>>Continue Reading...

Atrioventricular canal defect and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Atrioventricular canal defect 

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Atrioventricular canal defect is a combination of several abnormalities in the heart present at birth (congenital abnormalities). This defect, which is sometimes called endocardial cushion defect or atriovent...
>>>Continue Reading...

Endocarditis and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs, Complications of Endocarditis

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart (endocardium).

Endocarditis generally occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread thr...
>>>Continue Reading...

Endometrial Cancer and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs and Complications of Endometrial Cancer 

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Endometrial Cancer is a type of Cancer that begins in the uterus. The uterus is the hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ in women where fetal development occurs.

Endometrial Cancer begins in the la...
>>>Continue Reading...

Uterine polyps(endometrial polyps) and their Symptoms, Causes & Risk Factors, Diagnosis & Tests, Treatment and drugs and Complications of Uterine polyps(endometrial polyps)

Symptoms Causes Risk Factors Diagnosis Tests Treatment drugs Complications

DEFINITION

Uterine polyps are growths attached to the inner wall of the uterus that extend into the uterine cavity. Overgrowth of cells in the lining of the uterus (endometrium) leads to the formation of Uterine polyps...
>>>Continue Reading...