Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Dr. Schiffman received his B.S. degree with High Honors in biology from Hobart College in 1976. He then moved to Chicago where he studied biochemistry at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle. He attended Rush Medical College where he received his M.D. degree in 1982 and was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. He completed his Internal Medicine internship and residency at the University of California, Irvine.
Shortness of breath is the primary symptom of emphysema. It is a
progressive complaint, worsening over time. Early in the disease, shortness of
breath may occur with exercise and activity but symptoms gradually worsen and
may occur at rest.
Diagnosis of emphysema is based upon history, physical examination, and pulmonary
Once present, emphysema is not curable, but its symptoms are controllable.
Medication regimens are available to preserve function for daily activities
and quality of life for an individual with emphysema.
Oxygen supplementation may be required for a person with emphysema.
Exercise training and education are essential components of emphysema
therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation.
Surgical options for individuals with emphysema have been developed and but are not expected to be
available for widespread use.
Emphysema does not affect quantity of life, but rather quality of life. There are no
studies that can predict life-expectancy in individuals with emphysema.
Introduction to emphysema
The lungs are a pair of organs in the chest that are primarily responsible
for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the air we breathe and the
The lung is composed of clusters of small air sacs (alveoli) divided by thin,
elastic walls or membranes. Capillaries, the tiniest of blood vessels, run
within these walls between the alveoli and allow blood and air to come near each other. The distance between the air in the lungs and the blood in the
capillaries is very small, and allows molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide to
transfer across the membranes.
Air reaches the alveoli via the bronchial tree. The trachea splits into the
right and left mainstem bronchi, which branch further into bronchioles and
finally ends in the alveolar air sacs.
When we breathe in, air enters the lung and the alveoli expand. Oxygen is
transferred onto hemoglobin molecules in the red blood cells to be transported
to the rest of the body for use. As oxygen attaches to the red blood cell,
carbon dioxide, the waste product of metabolism, detaches and crosses into the
alveoli to be exhaled. When we breathe out, the alveoli get squeezed by the
elasticity in their walls and air is pushed out of the lungs.
Reviewed by George Schiffman, MD, FCCP on 9/28/2011
Emphysema is a progressive disease that usually manifests itself in patients
after 50 years of age. Emphysema is a subtype of chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD in the US, COLD in the United Kingdom). Most patients, except in
those in whom disease is the result of a genetic deficiency (alpha-1 antitrypsin
deficiency), have variable manifestations of the different components of COPD
Each of the subtypes has characteristic symptoms; those primarily associated
with emphysema are shortness of breath and wheezing. Initially the shortness of
breath (dyspnea) occurs with activity; as time continues and the disease
progresses, the episodes of dyspnea occur more frequently eventually occurring
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