Overview of Emphysema

Emphysema

Emphysema is a disease of the lungs that is long term and chronic. A person with disease has difficulty breathing because of limitation in exhaling. There are several different causes for emphysema, but smoking is the primary reason for most cases of emphysema.

Emphysema is the primary type of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). There is no known cure for this disease, but when a person quits smoking the rate of the progression of the disease lessens.

What Is The Process That Causes Emphysema?

Our bodies receive oxygen through tiny airs sacs in our lungs, called alveoli. When the fragile linings of these air sacs get damaged, emphysema results. The most common cause of this is cigarette smoke. Since this is the only way our bodies get oxygen, we need to take care of these. The more damage that is done, the following occurs:

. As the delicate tissues are destroyed between the alveoli are destroyed, the lungs develop air pockets.
. Air is then trapped within these pockets of lung tissue that is damaged.
. The lungs then enlarge slowly, making breathing difficult.
. Airflow limitation is the problem with emphysema. It makes it difficult for a person with emphysema to exhale the air from the lungs, thus also restricting the amount of air that can be breathed in.

The main form of COPD is emphysema. People that are suffering from emphysema exhale as if something were obstructing the flow of air from their lungs. The other form of COPD is chronic bronchitis, of which smoking is also a primary cause.

Smoking Is The Primary Cause Of Emphysema

Emphysema cause

The major cause of emphysema is smoking. Cigarette smoke leaves a residue of thick, sticky tar in the lungs. The smoke also contains many chemicals that are cancerous and dangerous. These substances are damaging to the lungs, in that smokers are six times more likely to contract emphysema than are people who are non-smokers.

Click to learn about emphysema symptoms

It is estimated that currently, there are over 10 million people who are suffering from the effects of emphysema or another type of COPD. Chronic Bronchitis and emphysema are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

An interesting statistic shows that heavy smokers do not develop emphysema, and the reason for that is not known. These heavy smokers do suffer from other, more pervasive problems from smoking, however.

Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency In The Body

The other cause of emphysema besides smoking is called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, yet it is minor compared to smoking as a cause. Alpha-1 antitrypsin or AAT for short, circulates in our blood as a natural protein. The function of this protein is to prevent our white blood cells, which is our immune system, from damaging normal cells.

There are roughly 100,000 people in the US who have a genetic condition where they are deficient in this protein, and with out this protein, the tissue in the lungs is continuously damaged. If a person with this condition smokes, it simply aggravates and worsens the condition.

Over time, most people with a deficiency of the ATT protein will develop emphysema, and it is estimated that 2 to 3 percent of the people that suffer from emphysema do so because of the AAT deficiency.

Secondhand Smoke And Other Emphysema Causes

It is possible that secondhand smoke may contribute to the cause of emphysema. If a person has to work in an environment with lots of secondhand smoke, or lives in such an environment, then that possibility certainly exists. In additiion, air pollution might be a factor of risk as well.

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