Emphysema is a chronic, progressive lung disease that is usually caused by smoking. Almost 30 million individuals in the United States have emphysema with about 100,000 dying of the disease per year. Emphysema is the fourth largest cause of death in the United States.
* Losing weight without trying
* Shortness of breath- feeling like you can't get your breath out
* A barrel-shaped chest
* Feeling tired (fatigue)
Emphysema is caused by each of these or a combination of them:
Cigarette smoking causes most cases of emphysema.
Alpha-1 Anti-trypsin deficiency is a rare genetic disorder that causes the lack of an enzyme which protects the lungs. Individuals with this disorder may get emphysema without ever smoking.
Air pollution is also believed to cause emphysema – especially long term exposure from an individual’s work place.
Feeling short of breath is not a normal sign of aging. Anytime shortness of breath occurs, a doctor should be consulted. Diagnosis of emphysema is made via a variety of tests:
Spirometry is a simple test to measure how much air is moved out of the lungs
Physical exam where physicians will listen to lungs and breathing sounds
High resolution spiral chest CT-scan
Bronchoscopy (when other lung disease is suspected, including malignancy)
Arterial pulse oximetry
Arterial blood gas sampling
Treatment and Prognosis:
There is no cure for emphysema, but the progression of the disease may be slowed to make life easier. The primary treatment of emphysema is to quit smoking and stay away from smoky areas.
Pulmonary rehabilitation can improve the quality of life and help an emphysema patient manage his or her care. Pulmonary rehabilitation may involve a combination of these treatments: oxygen supplementation, bronchodilators, steroid medication and anti-cholinergics.
Treating other conditions such as allergies and GERD (gastric reflux disease) can also help improve lung function.
Oxygen supplementation is the only non-surgical treatment that is known to prolong the life of an emphysema patient.
Lung volume reduction surgery, referred to as LVRS improves the quality of life for a select population of patients. There are several methods for LVRS.
The only known cure for emphysema is a lung transplant, but complications may cause more severe medical issues.
The European Respiratory Journal published a study suggesting that retinoic acid can reverse the lung damage of mice with emphysema. Retinoic acid is commercially known as Accutane – an anti-acne drug derived from Vitamin A.
People can live a long time with emphysema. The prognosis is determined by the following factors:
Age of diagnosis
Degree of Lung Damage
Life style changes – such as quitting smoking
Other health conditions
Complications of emphysema:
Increased blood count
Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in lung arteries)
Frequent chest infections – pneumonia and colds
The number one recommendation for emphysema patients who smoke is to quit! Lung damage cannot be undone, but further damage can be prevented.
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