Emphysema - Describe Your Experience

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What is emphysema?

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. The loss of elasticity of the lung tissue makes it harder for air to get to the periphery or furthest part of the lung during inhalation, and also harder for air to exit the damaged part of the lung 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.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: modestomoody, Male (Caregiver) Published: January 29

My grandmother in law is 65 years old, and has been diagnosed with emphysema, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), along with many other ailments. She's on oxygen and for the past few years she has made over a dozen trips to the hospital each year with stays from two days to two months. She currently takes Norco for pain, I wonder if taking these type of pain pills and possibly over a long period create more infections in her lungs than without taking them.

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Comment from: tschmer, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: April 01

In December 2013, I had anaphylaxis and it closed my airway. I was without pulse and oxygen for 12 to 14 minutes. My husband performed CPR and first responders intubated me. I was recently blindsided because I was told I have emphysema yet I never smoked. I have had asthma for years and lived in volcanic haze in Hawaii 20+ years, 3 years eating in smoke filled casinos in Vegas. So, I can truly tell you second hand smoke is just as damaging for you as first hand smoke is.

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