Any discussion of the facts on emphysema must include the main statement that emphysema belongs to the COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) group of respiratory conditions. COPD disorders cause obstruction to the airways and make it difficult to properly exhale all the carbon dioxide in the lungs. There are three known causes of emphysema, but smoking is the major one.

Other illnesses in the COPD group of respiratory problems are asthma and chronic bronchitis. These three conditions are seldom present in isolation of each other and therefore when one is present the other two are likely to be present as well. This is why they are grouped together and called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD.

Emphysema causes damage to the air sacs in the lungs. The natural air sacs in the lungs are called alveoli. As emphysema progresses these sacs become larger and fewer in number. The tissue around them lose elasticity so the sacs cannot expand and contract normally.

Eventually a lot of very small air sacs coalesce into one larger air sac greatly decreasing the surface area available for gas exchange. Additionally the airways collapse after inhaling. This traps carbon dioxide in the lungs as it cannot get out through the narrowed airways. Gradually the blood levels of oxygen decrease and levels of carbon dioxide increase.

Symptoms of emphysema are a chronic cough, a grayish-blue cast to the skin (from a lack of oxygen), fatigue, dizziness, finding it hard to catch your breath, and having difficulty breathing during any type of physical exercise. Often there is great discomfort when you eat (because it is hard to breathe with a full stomach), so gradually there is loss of appetite, weight loss and lack of energy. Unfortunately, because this condition progresses so slowly, by the time symptoms appear emphysema is usually already at a stage that is can affect your ability to lead a normal life.

The facts on emphysema include some very startling statistics. Because emphysema is primarily caused by smoking, it usually occurs in older adults. Men are 64% more likely to contract it than women. However, as the female population that took up smoking in the seventies and eighties are aging, emphysema is now becoming more prevalent in women as well. The two causes of emphysema not related to smoking are occupational exposures and a genetic enzyme deficiency that is very rare.

If you smoke and have this enzyme deficiency or work in an environment with occupational exposures to dust and irritating vapors, you amplify your risk for developing emphysema.

If you are still smoking cigarettes, the effects of smoking on the body have already started. Some experts suggest that all smokers have some level of emphysema, however, quitting smoking or avoiding secondhand smoking will reduce your chances of developing it.

One of the startling facts on emphysema is that there is no cure, but the symptoms can be treated and lessened. Treatment for emphysema is based on the severity of symptoms. Some of the treatment options most commonly used are similar to those used for asthma. These are treatments like inhalers, medications (antibiotics, bronchodilators, and corticosteroids), and oxygen therapy.

Two of the most significant facts on emphysema are that it predisposes you to develop lung infections and heart failure.

Frequent infections result from the inability of the lungs to effectively remove accumulated mucus. Low oxygen levels stimulate the heart to pump more blood and it becomes overworked eventually developing what is called congestive heart failure or cor pulmonale. Pneumonia and heart failure are the usual cause of death in people with emphysema and COPD.

The facts on emphysema are very clear. It is a chronic disabling condition. It leads to comorbid conditions such as lung infections and heart failure and it is one of the main smoking effects on the body in the respiratory system.

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