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Emphysema is one of a group of diseases called COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that causes progressive damage to the lungs. Of 16 million Americans with COPD, (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), 2 million have emphysema.

Each year over 100,000 Americans die of emphysema. Emphysema is the fourth largest cause of mortality in the U.S. At the present time more men than women aged between 50 and 70 years have emphysema. This pattern is changing as more women take up smoking.

Symptoms of emphysema include shortness of breath (dyspnea), wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, fatigue, headaches and sputum when coughing.

Emphysema is a progressive disease of the airways that is characterized by a gradual loss of lung function. This serious lung disease causes damage that cannot be cured or reversed although there are treatments that can lead to some improvement in lung function.

Emphysema is a result of the toxin destroying the small air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli. The air sacs stretch as they transport oxygen from the air to the blood and then shrink as they force out carbon dioxide. The lungs lose their elasticity as a result. Exhaling becomes difficult and air becomes trapped in the lungs trap air and cannot effectively exchange it with fresh air.

The damaged lungs are not able to provide the body with the oxygen it needs. The result is that people’s lives are transformed. In severe cases any form of physical exertion causes breathing to become so labored that quality of life is minimal. The inability to breath freely is emotionally exhausting and very frightening.

Causes of emphysema
Cigarette smoking is the major cause of emphysema. It accounts for more than 80 percent of all cases. Most victims are over 40 years of age and have been long term smokers.Exposure to the toxins in air pollution is also thought to be contributing factor of emphysema. There is a rare inherited form of emphysema called alpha-1 anti-trypsin. People with this deficiency are more likely than others to get emphysema.

Treatments for Emphysema
These can vary but may include antibiotics, steroids to help reduce inflammation, bronchodilators, oxygen therapy and the possibility of lung transplantation in very severe cases. The most effective preventative measure is for smokers to stop and for those people who work in industrial settings to ensure they properly guard against airborne irritants.

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