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Emphysema-Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment

Overview

Emphysema is a lung condition that occurs when the air sacs in the lungs are damaged. The air sacs blow out to try and compensate for this, causing a shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.  With emphysema the chest gets smaller and smaller because of the loss of volume. But Emphysema is not just confined to chest breathing. Many people live with emphysema without realizing it until they experience symptoms such as coughing up phlegm or a tight feeling in their chest during exercise - these become signs that your body is struggling to cope with all that bad air you are breathing in.

 

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Symptoms

Emphysema can appear in many different ways. You may experience symptoms of emphysema such as a tight feeling in your chest when you are breathing, periodic shortness of breath, or less able to exercise than you once were. The most common symptom though is the constant need to clear your throat when you are trying to relax, this is because the airways are constricted so that there is a build up of mucus in airways due to damage to the air sacs.

Causes

Emphysema (or COPD) can be caused by several different things. Some people develop it more frequently due to lifetime exposure to smog, smoke and environmental pollution. Smokers are also more likely to develop emphysema, this is because tobacco smoke irritates the lungs and causes damage to the air sacs. Some people have asthma which can make them more prone to developing emphysema. In people who live the longest with the condition, it is thought that genetics may play a part.

When to see a doctor?

If you think you may have emphysema, go and see your doctor straight away. Some people have a hard time distinguishing between breathing problems and other health complaints, so if you are not sure go see your doctor to get checked out. They will be able to determine whether it is a case of simple shortness of breath or if it's something more serious. Your doctor will be able to start treatment straight away if it is in fact emphysema.

Risk factors

1. Smoking: Smoking is a major factor in the development of emphysema. The toxins that are stored in your lungs enter the bloodstream and cause destruction of lung tissue. If you smoke, you will be more likely to develop emphysema because it can be long term and difficult to reverse if left untreated.

2. Age: Children are more at risk than adults, this is because they have less developed chests, their air sacs are thinner and therefore more prone to damage. Also their circulation is not as strong so it's harder for blood to reach their air sacs which means they won't clear them as well - meaning emphysema is more likely to develop if they continue smoking once they reach maturity.

3. Sex: Men are at a higher risk of developing COPD than women, this is because men smoke more than women and their small airways are less able to cope with the increased pressure.

4. Race: Caucasians are more at risk of developing emphysema, because they are more likely to smoke and live in cities which have a high concentration of pollutants.

5. Exposure: Exposure is also a factor in emphysema - if you have spent much time around cigarette smoke or pollution then you may be more at risk of developing emphysema symptoms.

6. Family history: People who have a family member suffering from emphysema have a higher risk of developing the disease themselves.

7. Pets

8. Inhalation of dust or fumes: If you are exposed to aerosols such as wood dust, paint fumes, gas leaks, etc. your risk of developing emphysema may increase. These particles cause damage to existing air sacs and irritate the airways leading to symptoms similar to COPD (Emphysema).

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Complications

If you have emphysema, there are several complications that can arise. The most common is simple shortness of breath which can be very painful. Other complications include bleeding into the lungs, infection, heart attack or even death due to deterioration in lung function.

diagnosis

If you are suffering from emphysema, then your doctor will run a few tests to determine whether or not it is COPD. The main method of diagnosis is to run an x-ray of your lungs and see if there is any damage inside. Although this does not necessarily mean that you have emphysema, it does let your doctor know that the possibility for you having the disease is high. They will also take a lung function test which involves them putting tubes down your throat to measure how well you can breathe out and in. This test helps determine whether or not you have COPD and how bad it may be.

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with emphysema, there are a few ways your doctor can treat it. First of all prescription medication will be needed to help reduce mucus build up and make it easier for you to breathe. If that does not work then surgery may need to be performed where lung tissue is removed, or in the most serious cases, lungs are removed and replaced by an artificial device.

prevention

You may be able to prevent emphysema if you quit smoking or stop being exposed to cigarette smoke. You may be able to reduce your risk of developing COPD if you live in a city with low levels of pollution and breathe fresh air day in and day out.

research

many different studies have been carried out over the years looking into the causes of emphysema and ways in which it can be treated. One of the main areas of research that has been carried out is in relation to smoking and how cigarettes cause damage to air sacs which leads to COPD (Emphysema). Another area of research that has been carried out is in relation to the use of stem cells to treat emphysema.

current research:

stem cells are currently being used in research to come up with new treatment methods for emphysema. Two different studies have been carried out using stem cells to try and repair the damaged air sacs which lead to emphysema. One study looked at injecting insulin-like growth factor one (IGF-1) into the chest cavity which encourages the growth of lung tissue due to its association with lung development in children. The second study used a protein called Nodal which stimulates growth and development of lung tissue.

There are also various different techniques that are being developed by researchers to prevent emphysema and COPD (Emphysema) from developing in the first place. Some of these include medications that decrease inflammation, surgery to improve bad air passages, and the use of stem cells.

surgery

There are many different types of surgery that have been carried out to treat emphysema, ranging from simple repairs which are aimed at making breathing easier, to removing your entire lung along with the surrounding muscles which would be used for breathing purposes. This could be an alternative to patients who have emphysema and are not able to get treatment when they need it.

 

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