What is Emphysema?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to diseases of the lungs which disrupts breathing. Emphysema and bronchitis are the two most common conditions that contribute to COPD. Emphysema is a chronic lung condition where the air sacs (alveoli) have become stretched, narrowed, or destroyed causing a decrease in lung function. Once the walls of the alveoli are broken down breathlessness will occur. The damage that occurs cannot be reversed and holes begin to appear in the tissue of the lower lungs. Many studies have indicated that at least 11 percent of the population are afflicted with COPD. After the age of 20, the lungs stop producing alveoli tissue and normal deterioration starts to appear within the lungs. Pollution and smoking increase the process considerably.
Emphysema causes might be from smoking, or exposure to air pollution, that cause a breakdown of the elastic fibers of the lung that produces expansion and contraction. The lungs do not have the capacity to exhale the carbon monoxide that develops in the lungs. Exposure to dust or work related fumes can also be a culprit in the development of this condition. Early on in the development of COPD, shortness of breath or a cough may be present. Signs of emphysema include anxiety, fatigue, heart problems, weight loss, or sleep disturbances. Feeling short of breath may interfere with the ability to fall asleep and remain asleep. Because the lungs are working harder to try to function, this can put an added burden on the heart, which could lead to serious problems of the heart. Emphysema causes can be attributed to hereditary disposition as well, due to alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency (A1AD). If afflicted with emphysema, upon breathing, expansion in the chest may be noticed. This is because of using accessory muscles to help with breathing difficulties. In the early stages, this only happens during exertion, but as the disease worsens, it will be noticed even while the patient is at rest. Emphysema causes cyanosis or wheezing in some of the advanced stages.
Emphysema does not come on suddenly but develops over time as the damage intensifies. The symptoms will progress as the disease does. In the later stages of the disease patients may feel shortness of breath and cough up sputum. Emphysema can be diagnosed with pulmonary function tests. These tests determine the lungs capacity. The amount of air forced out by the lungs will be measured. An evaluation will be made to see changes in breathing and medication responses. Laboratory tests may be utilized in the diagnose of COPD to determine the amount of oxygen and carbon monoxide are in the blood. The sputum may be analyzed for signs of infection. Because the damage to the lungs can not be repaired, the treatment plan is to help the patient with breathing to help maintain the highest level of comfort, and to stop the progression of the disease. It is important to stop smoking or to stop exposure to whatever are the emphysema causes. Bronchodilators and other medications such as steroids are often implemented to assist with breathing when breathing problems occur. When infections occur in the lungs they can be treated with antibiotics. Oxygen tanks help many by providing oxygen that damaged lungs can't acquire by themselves. There are exercises that can help to strengthen the lungs for better lung function. Surgery may be necessary to remove part of the area damaged by COPD. A last resort is a lung transplant. Seeking medical attention at the onset of symptoms of this disease is crucial in preventing further destruction of the lungs. Emphysema causes more than 100,000 deaths in the United States each year. Scientists believe that smoking reduces a person's life span from eight to ten years and by quitting the damage won't go away, but further progression of the disease will!