Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Pulmonary Emphysema

Pulmonary Emphysema

Illustration of  the anatomy of the respiratory system, adult
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What is pulmonary emphysema?

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

Overinflation of the air sacs is a result of a breakdown of the walls of the alveoli. It 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 symptoms of pulmonary emphysema?

The following are the most common symptoms for pulmonary emphysema. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Early symptoms of pulmonary emphysema may include:

Other symptoms may include:

The symptoms of pulmonary emphysema may resemble other lung conditions or medical problems. Consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What are the causes of pulmonary emphysema?

Emphysema does not develop suddenly, but occurs very gradually. Pulmonary emphysema occurs when there is an obstruction of airflow generally caused by:

How is pulmonary emphysema diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, the doctor may request the following:

What is the treatment for pulmonary emphysema?

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

The goal of treatment for people with pulmonary emphysema is to live more comfortably with the disease by providing relief of symptoms and preventing progression of the disease with minimal side effects. Treatment may include:

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

COPD is a term that refers to a large group of lung diseases that can interfere with normal breathing. According to the American Lung Association, more than 12 million Americans have COPD, and an additional 12 million may have impaired lung function, suggesting it may be significantly underreported. As many as 24 million people may be affected. The two most common conditions of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

The causes of COPD are not fully understood. It is generally agreed that the most important cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema is cigarette smoking. Causes such as air pollution and occupational exposures may play a role, especially when combined with cigarette smoking. Heredity also plays a contributing role in some patients' emphysema, and is especially important in a rare form due to alpha 1 anti-trypsin deficiency.

Patients with chronic bronchitis usually have a cough and sputum production for many years before they develop shortness of breath.

Patients with emphysema usually have shortness of breath and develop a cough and sputum during a respiratory infection, or in the later stages of the illness.

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