Emphysema is a disease of the lungs, and it is one of the diseases that makes up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Patients who suffer from emphysema have problems removing stale air from the body and inhaling fresh new air. The alveoli (air sacs) within the lungs are essentially damaged which results in breathing problems.
In the majority of cases, emphysema is caused by smoking. There may be other contributing factors, for example, a deficiency of the alpha-1-antitrypsin protein that the body needs for lung protection. However, smoking is by far the most common reason that people develop emphysema, and other factors alone are very unlikely to cause the disease.
All smokers are at risk for emphysema. It is more common in older people, but this is likely due to the fact that older people have been smoking for many years in most cases. People who begin smoking at very young ages are more likely to develop emphysema before their senior years.
Shortness of breath is the most common symptom. This may happen at any time, but the shortness of breath is often much worse during times of mild to moderate physical exertion. Some emphysema sufferers feel a tightness in the chest area. While unusual, some emphysema sufferers may have chest pain. The struggle to breathe freely often leads to wheezing and sometimes to coughing as well.
The doctor may perform several different tests to diagnose emphysema. A chest X-ray may be done to rule out causes such as heart failure. The oxygen levels in the blood may be tested with a fingertip oxygen saturation probe or the arterial blood gas test. Lung function tests are often done, as well. In these tests, the patient blows into a tool called the spirometer to measure their lung capacity.
Treatment for emphysema is customized for the individual. Treatments may include bronchodilators, antibiotics, a pulmonary rehab program, supplemental oxygen, and surgery.
Feel free to email us regarding any scheduling or general questions!