Emphysema Causes and Risk Factors

What are the risk factors for emphysema?

Emphysema is a chronic, debilitating lung disease that is the result of damage to the air spaces (sacs) in the lung. Emphysema is one category of chronic lung disorders, which also includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and chronic bronchitis.

What are the causes of emphysema include

  • Smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke (tobacco, marijuana, or other drug use) destroys lung tissue and can contribute to connective tissue damage.
  • Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is a genetic disorder where people lack a certain protein normally produced by the liver that protects the lungs from inflammation caused by infection and inhaled irritants.
  • Environmental exposure to particles in polluted air or dusts and gases in the workplace can cause inflammation and irritation to the lung tissues.

Other risk factors for emphysema include

  • Being male: Men are more prone to emphysema, mainly because men tend to smoke more than women, though the incidence in women is increasing
  • Reactive airway diseases: Asthma or allergies may predispose people to develop inflammation and tissue damage to the lungs.
  • Older age: Inhalation of irritants over a lifetime progressively damages lungs and the tissue destruction that characterizes emphysema takes a long time to occur.

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Medically reviewed by James E Gerace, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Pulmonary Disease


UpToDate. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Definition, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging.