Emphysema (cont.)

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What are the causes or risk factors for emphysema?

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  • The main risk factor for emphysema is smoking, which activates inflammatory cells in the lung. This inflammation causes; 1) swelling within the bronchioles, and 2) activation of enzymes called proteases which attack and destroy lung tissue (the alveolar wall structures). This leads to centriacinar (centri=central+acinus=sac) emphysema, which begins in the bronchioles and gradually spreads peripherally to the far reaches of the lung. There may be a genetic contribution to the development of emphysema, since not all people who smoke suffer from emphysema.
  • There is also an inherited form of emphysema. The relatively rare condition known as alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency is the genetic deficiency of a chemical that protects the lung from damage by proteases. This results in panacinar (pan=widespread+acinus=sac) emphysema, which destroys the alveoli throughout the lung uniformly.
  • Emphysema is also a component of aging, they become less elastic, and scattered small areas of emphysema may develop.

Other less common causes of emphysema include:

  • Intravenous drug use in which some of the non-drug additives like corn starch can be toxic to lung tissue
  • Immune deficiencies in which infections like Pneumocystis carinii can cause inflammatory changes in the lung
  • Connective tissue illnesses (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan syndrome) that affect all elastic type tissue in the body, including lung alveoli.

In underdeveloped countries, a common cause of emphysema is indoor air pollution. In these populations, it is very common to have indoor stoves in the kitchen. The smoke from cooking results in the damage to the lungs.

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.