Emphysema is a chronic respiratory condition affecting the lungs. The alveoli of the lungs get damaged which in the long run reduce the surface available for transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide. As a result, patients do not receive sufficient amounts of oxygen which additionally affects the heart and other organs in the body and is in the terminal stage responsible for lethal outcome.
Progression of the disease cannot be stopped, there is no cure but with different treatments patients live much longer than they used to. Available treatments also improve patient's quality of life. What are Causes of Emphysema?
Smoking, alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency and air pollution are three factors associated with the onset of emphysema.
Among the mentioned, smoking is definitely the major cause of emphysema. The explanation is quite simple. Namely, cigarette smoking damages the cilia in the airway. The cilia are of major importance for clearing away mucus and secretions. If they do not function properly, mucus will accumulate and cause blockage in the airway. Smoking is additionally connected with inflammation and irritation in the lungs and subsequent increase in mucus production.
Apart from smoking even air pollution may contribute to the disease. Air pollutants enter the lungs and cause similar damage to that induced by smoking. There is inflammation and irritation of the airway but of less intensity than the one caused by smoking.
People with a deficiency of one enzyme called alpha-1-antitrypsin are genetically predisposed to emphysema. They are even more susceptible to damage caused by smoking and air pollutants and are highly likely to eventually end up with emphysema.Emphysema - Symptoms and Signs
In initial stages emphysema is practically asymptomatic. The only way to confirm the onset of the disease is possible with chest X-ray that is performed for other purposes. However, once the disease has progressed sufficiently patients start to complain about shortness of breath, rapid breathing and wheezing. These complaints are in the beginning associated with increased physical activity and tend to improve with rest. Furthermore, patients suffer from chronic cough (dry or with sputum), loss of appetite and subsequent loss of weight. Decreased exercise tolerance is seen in advanced stages of the disease.
Lack of oxygen forces the heart to pump excessively, which in the long run leads to heart hypertrophy and may cause pulmonary hypertension. Since patients cannot inhale sufficient amounts of oxygen, they start using muscles of the rib cage excessively. As a result these muscles become hypertrophic and the chest becomes barrel-shaped.
Finally, most cases of emphysema can be prevented with smoking cessation or avoiding this nasty habit in the first place, which is the best preventive method that exists.