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.
Emphysema is a
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
that progresses over a period of time. COPD also includes
chronic bronchitis. Although one type may predominate, most people with COPD have some of both.
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 breathIncreasing difficulty exercisingGreat difficulty exhalingChronic coughingCough 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.
Emphysema is usually the result of long-term exposure to harmful particles or gases, such as: Tobacco smokeOccupational dusts and chemicalsIndoor air pollutants, such as fuel burned in confined spacesOutdoor air pollutants
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.
may also be done.
Since, at present, emphysema cannot be cured, the goals of treatment are to: Relieve the symptoms of the diseasePrevent further loss of lung function
To relieve symptoms, one or more of the following treatments may be used: Bronchodilators—to help relax the lung's airwaysAnticholinergics—to help open the airway passagesPulmonary rehabilitation—to help improve lung capacity and general overall physical conditionAnti-inflammatory medications—to decrease inflammation and swelling in the breathing passagesOxygen therapy—may be used for those with severely impaired lung function
Emphysema may also be treated with surgery, such as: Bullectomy—removal of an area on the lungs that has formed a large cavity (bullous)Lung volume reduction surgery—removal of seriously damaged part of the lungLung transplant
To slow emphysema's progression, the agent causing it must be removed. Since long-term smoking causes an overwhelming number of cases of emphysema, the only effective way to slow the progression of emphysema is to
There are many smoking cessation therapies available. Your doctor may also be able to prescribe a medication that may help you stop smoking.
To prevent the onset of emphysema: If you smoke, quit. Talk to your doctor about strategies to quit.Avoid exposure to secondhand smokeAvoid workplace and environmental pollutants.
Emphysema does not suddenly occur. It develops over a long period of time. At the first sign of any of the symptoms, talk to your doctor. The sooner emphysema is treated, the better the outcomes.
COPD. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 21, 2016. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Explore COPD. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd. Updated July 31, 2013. Accessed May 31, 2016.
Tutic M, Lardinois D, Imfeld S, Korom S, et al. Lung-volume reduction surgery as an alternative or bridging procedure to lung transplantation.
Ann Thorac Surg. 2006;82(1):208-213.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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