Diseases & Conditions


EmphysemaCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Emphysema?

Emphysema is a progressive, long-term disease that affects the lungs causing shortness of breath. In individuals suffering from emphysema, the tissues that maintain the physical function and shape of the lungs are ruined.

Causes of Emphysema

Smoking tobacco is the cause of most types of emphysema. Cases of emphysema caused by all other etiologies are termed as secondary emphysema. The lung condition can also be caused by A1AD or alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency. Certain types of emphysema are thought to be a part of the normal aging process and can be found in some elderly people whose lungs has undergone deterioration due to advanced age. Although all elderly people develop emphysema, all of them are at risk of incurring decreased respiratory functions. Emphysema can also develop by any process that makes the body unable to inhibit the proteolytic enzymes within the lung. This can be second hand tobacco smoke, exposure to air pollution, toxins or other chemicals.

Medication for Emphysema

Medications used in treating emphysema as and when necessary are bronchodilators, anticholinergics, steroids both oral and inhaled, effective positioning of the body and oxygen supplement as needed. Treating the person’s other conditions like allergies and gastric reflux might enhance lung function.

Prevention of Emphysema

The main line of prevention of emphysema is a total cessation of smoking cigarettes. Secondary emphysema can be prevented by avoiding second hand tobacco smoke, exposure to air pollution, toxins or other chemicals.

Risk Factors of Emphysema

Emphysema causes reduced ventilation due to the breakdown of the alveoli, significantly impairing the ability to give off carbon dioxide. It even impairs the uptake of oxygen in serious instances. The body fails to sustain sufficiently high levels of oxygen in the blood. As a last resort, the body begins vasoconstricting the right vessels leading to pulmonary tension that involves extra strain on the right side of the patient’s heart. It is the right side that is responsible for supplying deoxygenated blood back to the lungs. The heart is forced to pump more blood to compensate causing the cardiac muscles to thicken which in turn causes distension of the jugular vein. Ultimately, as the overworked heart fails to cope, it expands resulting in the blood backing up into the liver. Also, a combination of oxygen deprivation, side effects of any medication employed and the patient’s age can damage the heart, kidneys and other parts of the body.

Symptoms of Emphysema

Emphysema occurs when the structures maintaining the alveoli are destroyed due to the action of A1AD. As a result, the minute airways collapse while undergoing forced exhalation because of a decrease in alveolar collapsibility. This impedes the airflow making the air get trapped within the lungs resulting in shortness of breath and expanded chest on exertion.

Since persons suffering from emphysema do not receive sufficient oxygen, they cannot get rid of the carbon dioxide either resulting in shortness of breath or dypsenia. At first dyspenia occurs in people only during increased physical activity and soon they will be dyspenic the whole time, even when they are in a state of relaxation. Emphysema is also characterized by trouble in coughing, reduced quantities of sputum, loss of weight and tachypnea or rapid breathing, difficulty of breathing etc.

Treatment for Emphysema

Emphysema is in fact a degenerative condition that is irreversible. The slow down the progression of emphysema is for the individual to cease smoking, keep away from any exposure to tobacco smoke as well as lung irritants. This process of pulmonary rehabilitation is extremely helpful in optimizing the sufferer’s quality of life as also instruct him/her to positively manage his/her care. Resorting to LVRS or lung volume reduction surgery might enhance the quality of life in some carefully chosen patients. This surgery could be achieved by various methods and some to them tend to be minimally evasive. The sole cure for emphysema is a lung transplant, although hardly any patient is sufficiently strong physically to withstand the surgical procedure.

Types of Emphysema

The term emphysema means swelling and is derived from the Greek work emhysa. Emphysema is classified as primary and secondary in a general sense. More commonly, it is classified according to location. It is further subdivided into panacinary or panlobular and centroacinary and centrilobular. Panacinar emphysema affects the lower lobes, specifically the basal segments as also the anterior margins of human lungs. Centriacinar emphysema occurs in the upper lobes of the lungs. There are other types of emphysema too such as distal acinar and irregular. Then there is the special type termed congenital lobar emphysema.