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Pulmonary Emphysema

What is pulmonary emphysema?

Emphysema is a chronic lung condition in which alveoli, or air sacs, may be:

  • destroyed
  • narrowed
  • collapsed
  • stretched
  • over-inflated

Over-inflation of the air-sacs is a result of a breakdown of the walls of the alveoli, and causes a decrease in respiratory function and breathlessness. Damage to the air sacs is irreversible and results in permanent “holes” in the tissues of the lower lungs.

What are the causes of pulmonary emphysema?

Emphysema does not develop suddenly, but occurs very gradually. The lung has a system of elastic fibers that allow the lungs to expand and contract. Pulmonary emphysema occurs when a breakdown in the chemical balance that protects the lungs against the destruction of the elastic fibers occurs.
There are a number of reasons for the breakdown in chemical balance:

  • smoking
  • exposure to air pollution (chemical fumes, dust, and other substances)
  • irritating fumes and dusts on the job
  • a rare, inherited form of the disease called alpha 1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency-related pulmonary emphysema, or early onset pulmonary emphysema
Treatment for pulmonary emphysema:

Specific treatment for pulmonary emphysema will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference