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Emphysema is a factor in the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that limits the flow of air when you breathe out. Emphysema occurs when the air sacs at the ends of your smallest air passages (bronchioles) are gradually destroyed. Smoking is the leading cause of emphysema. As it worsens, emphysema turns the spherical air sacs — clustered like bunches of grapes — into large, irregular pockets with gaping holes in their inner walls. This reduces the number of air sacs and keeps some of the oxygen entering your lungs from reaching your bloodstream. In addition, the elastic fibers that hold open the small airways leading to the air sacs are slowly destroyed, so that they collapse when you breathe out, not letting the air in your lungs escape. Airway obstruction, another feature of COPD, contributes to emphysema. The combination of emphysema and obstructed airways makes breathing increasingly difficult. Treatment often slows, but doesn't reverse, the process.
Complications of Emphysema
Emphysema can increase the severity of other chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart failure. If you have emphysema, air pollution or a respiratory infection can lead to an acute COPD exacerbation, with extreme shortness of breath and dangerously low oxygen levels. You may need admission to an intensive care unit and temporary support from an artificial breathing machine (ventilator) until the infection clears.
Causes of Emphysema
The causes of emphysema include:
Signs & Symptoms of Emphysema
Emphysema symptoms are mild to begin with but steadily get worse as the disease progresses. The main emphysema symptoms are:
Diagnosis of Emphysema
To determine if you have emphysema, your doctor is likely to recommend certain tests, including:
Treatments of Emphysema
The most important step in any treatment plan for smokers with emphysema is to stop smoking; it's the only way to stop the damage to your lungs from becoming worse. But quitting is never easy, and people often need the help of a comprehensive smoking cessation plan, which may include:
Other emphysema treatments focus on helping you feel better, stay more active and slow the progression of emphysema. They include:
Prevention of Emphysema
Most cases of emphysema are preventable. To prevent emphysema:
When to seek Medical Advice
These signs and symptoms don't necessarily mean you have emphysema, but they do indicate that your lungs aren't working properly and should be evaluated by your doctor as soon as possible.
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