Emphysema (cont.)

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What is emphysema?

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Emphysema is a long-term, progressive disease of the lung(s) and occurs when the alveolar walls are destroyed along with the capillary blood vessels that run within them. This lessens the total area within the lung where blood and air can come together, limiting the potential for oxygen and carbon dioxide transfer.

In early emphysema, there is associated inflammation of the small airways or bronchioles that limits the amount of air that can flow to the alveoli. In more severe emphysema, there is also loss of elasticity in the alveolar walls that have not been destroyed. When the person breathes out, the alveoli and small airways collapse. This loss of elasticity of the lung tissue makes it harder for air into the now closed and also harder for air to exit during exhalation. As emphysema progresses and more and more alveoli are destroyed, bullae can be formed. Bullae are air filled sacs of lung that do not function. They can become extremely large and often are located in the upper parts of the lung. A bulla (plural=bullae) are at risk for rupturing and causing a pneumothorax, or collapse of the lung.

As more of the lung is destroyed and the lung cannot maintain oxygen concentrations in the bloodstream, the body compensates by gradually increasing the breathing rate. After a while, even hyperventilation (hyper=more + ventilation=breathing) cannot maintain adequate oxygen levels, and the arteries in the lung begin to constrict or narrow. The heart has to work harder to push blood into these narrower blood vessels, causing the blood pressure in the lung arteries to increase (pulmonary hypertension). Over time, the extra work requirement causes the heart muscle to enlarge (hypertrophy) and can cause heart failure.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/14/2013

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Emphysema - Describe Your Experience Question: Please describe your experience with emphysema.
Emphysema - Symptoms Question: What were the symptoms of your emphysema?
Emphysema - Causes and Risks Question: If known, what was the cause of your emphysema?
Emphysema - Diagnosis Question: What kinds of tests and exams did you have that led to a diagnosis of emphysema?
Emphysema - Treatment Question: Please describe the treatments, therapies, and medications you've received for emphysema.
Emphysema - Smoking Question: Are/were you a smoker prior to your emphysema diagnosis? If you've stopped, what worked for you?
Emphysema - Rehabilitation Question: Please share suggestions and tips for exercising and rehabilitating to control your emphysema.