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Emphysema is a condition of the lungs. The walls of the air sacs in the lungs are no longer functioning properly and suffer from serious damage. In addition to this, their ability to spring back into the original shape is lost and due to that the outflow of air when a person exhales is obstructed. A lot of patients quite often experience this condition along with another one, called the chronic bronchitis. In situations when a person suffers from both these conditions at the same time, he or she is diagnosed with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.

How is emphysema diagnosed?

The main characteristic of this condition is the loss of elasticity of the lung. This is a serious problem as the lung is vital due to the fact that it aids in holding the airways open. When there is no elasticity the lung is unable to exhale all the air that is in the lung.

The doctors still do not know all the facts about this disease. Every person can develop emphysema but some are more prone to it than others. A person who is born with a lack of the ability to create alpha-1-antitrypsin has more chance of experiencing the disease while he or she is still young. However, the good thing is that only a small number of people are born with lacking alpha-1-antitrypsin.

The leading cause of this condition is smoking. The doctors have a difficult task of diagnosing emphysema as it can look like some other disease for a period of several years. When a person goes to the doctor with these symptoms, he or she is usually told that asthma or bronchitis is the disease he or she is suffering from. The difference between emphysema and these diseases is that an emphysema patient usually experiences more than one severe cold every winter for several years. These colds usually come with a cough that becomes chronic and bronchitis.

Emphysema does not develop fast but slowly and gradually over time. At the beginning a person will experience minor problems with breathing in the morning and evening. After a time, the shortness of breath will make a person unable to perform certain everyday activities. Walking up the stairs will become a problem and even a short walk will leave a person without a breath. In the end, the lungs will become so damaged that every breath will require a lot of effort and the person will no longer be able to do even the easiest tasks. Shortness of breath is one of the most often seen symptoms of this condition and it is considered to be a certain sign that it is time to go to the hospital. Emphysema needs to be treated as it can lead to severe cardiovascular problems if it is left untreated. Heart failure is even possible is certain situations. Apart from shortness of breath, some of the other sings of this condition include a minor smoker’s cough, fatigue, weight loss and respiratory infections that keep coming back. In order to make a proper diagnosis of emphysema, the doctor needs to order an x-ray, CAT scan and certain tests that will check the functioning of the lungs.

Emphysema treatment options

Quitting smoking is the first treatment option that the doctors recommend to emphysema patients. Those who do stop smoking will experience a slight improvement of the symptoms as the inflammation of the airways will lessen. Further clearing of the airway can be helped by following of certain methods like avoiding air pollution and performing certain exercises that enhance the strength of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. These exercises aid the process of breathing. Doctors may recommend specific positions that will make the process of clearing of excess mucus from the lungs finish faster. In addition to these tips a person can also talk to the doctor about using certain medications and breathing aids. Maintaining proper nutrition, avoiding irritating inhalants like dust and fumes, respiratory infections ad extreme temperatures is of great significance in the treatment process. Overall strength and health of the patient are essential and a person can build these by going for walks and following a specific exercise program.

The experts have still not discovered a cure for emphysema and all of these treatment methods are used to relieve the symptoms. The chances of stopping the progression of the disease are a lot higher if the condition is discovered in the early stages and smoking is stopped. With adequate treatment a person can perform all the tasks that he or she used to perform before the disease occurred.

Both men and women can develop this disease but the patients are mainly men. Those older than 50 years of age and who were heavy smokers all their life are more prone to developing it. However, most patients are older than 65.

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