Emphysema

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Overview of Emphysema

Emphysema is a long-term, progressive lung disease that causes shortness of breath due to over inflation of alveoli. It occurs due impaired function of alveoli that they cannot exchange gases. Emphysema is included in group of diseases called ‘chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’ (COPD).  It affects the inner walls of the lungs where they will weaken and eventually rupture that creates one large air space instead of many small ones. This reduces the surface area in the lungs and then effects the lungs ability to exchange oxygen. It also reduces the amount of air you can exhale which decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches the bloodstream.

Causes and Risk Factors of Emphysema

The main cause of emphysema is tobacco smoking. Smokers are at greater risk than the normal population but other causes can be from marijuana smoking, air pollution, alpha-1 antitrypsin enzyme deficiency, airway reactivity, or biomass fumes (wood, crops, animal dung, and coal). Cigarette smoke destroys lung tissue, which results in the obstruction of air flow, and it causes inflammation and irritation of airways that can add to air flow obstruction. Trypsin is released by lung immune cells to destroy bacteria and other material. Alpha-1 antitrypsin enzyme keeps it regulated but people with its deficiency cannot fight the destructive effects of trypsin once it is released in the lung. The destruction of tissue by trypsin produces similar effects to those seen with cigarette smoking.

Signs and Symptoms of Emphysema

The symptoms may not appear for many years before the person notices any difference to the breathing. The most common sign is shortness of breath which begins slowly and gradually become worse and worse until you’re short of breath even while resting. Cough (caused by production of mucus), and wheezing are other symptoms. Additional signs may include production of sputum, wheezing, weight loss, fatigue, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, morning headaches, blueness of lips and fingernail beds and frequent lung infections.