Emphysema

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What is emphysema?

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Emphysema is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that presents as an abnormal and permanent enlargement of air spaces distal to the terminal bronchioles. It frequently occurs in association with obstructive pulmonary problems and chronic bronchitis. It is unusual for someone to have pure emphysema unless it is a result of genetic abnormalities. Most people have some combination of emphysema and chronic bronchitis with varying degrees of airway bronchospasm. This condition is commonly referred to as COPD (and in the United Kingdom, as chronic obstructive lung disease, COLD).

There are three morphological types of emphysema; 1) centriacinar, 2) panacinar, and 3) paraseptal.

  1. Centriacinar begins in the respiratory bronchioles and spreads peripherally mainly in the upper half of the lungs and is usually associated with long-standing cigarette smoking.
  2. Panacinar predominates in the lower half of the lungs and destroys the alveolar tissue and is associated with homozygous alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disease.
  3. Paraseptal emphysema preferentially localizes around the septae of the lungs or pleura, often associated with inflammatory processes, like prior lung infections.

What are the risk factors for emphysema?

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The major factors that increase the risk for developing emphysema are:

Smoking: Smoking is one of the major risk factors for developing emphysema; the risk increases as the number of years the person has been smoking increases, and is related to the amount of tobacco smoked (for example, three cigarettes a day versus a pack and a half per day); smoking is a major risk factor also for developing lung cancer.

Exposure to secondhand smoke: the risk factors or emphysema increase for people exposed to secondhand smoke according to the number of years exposed to secondhand smoke, and the amount of smoke the person is exposed to.

Exposure to fumes or dust in the environment: People that work in close association with chemical fumes or dusts generated in mining, chemical plants or other industries are higher risks for developing emphysema; these risks are further increased if the person smokes tobacco.

Pollution: Air pollution caused by fumes from vehicles, electrical generating plants that use coal and other fumes produce increases the risk of emphysema.

In the underdeveloped parts of the world, indoor air pollution primarily from open wood flames used for cooking is the primary mechanism for acquiring emphysema.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/16/2014

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Emphysema - Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you experience with emphysema?
Emphysema - Risk Factors Question: What risk factors do you have for emphysema? If so, what lifestyle changes do you plan to implement to prevent progressive emphysema?
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