is a serious lung
disease where the air sacs and small airways of the lungs
have become damaged. Emphysema is a progressive disease which is not typically diagnosed until irreversible damage has been done. Symptoms rarely occur in the early and reversible stages of emphysema. Emphysema is a progressive disease that eventually limits the patient’s ability to perform physical activity. In advanced stages, the patient must use about 20% of their resting energy to expel air from their lungs, causing severe fatigue. Emphysema affects the expulsion of air rather than the inhalation of air.
Symptoms of emphysema include a mild and chronic cough
, loss of appetite
, weight loss
, and fatigue. Fatigue sets in when the body has to work especially hard to expel air combined with the inability to receive ample oxygen throughout the body. The simple act of eating can produce such fatigue that the patient loses interest in food. The weight loss contributes to fatigue and weakness. A cough may or may not accompany emphysema, but when it does it is typically a cough that does not produce phlegm. The main symptom of emphysema includes a feeling of shortness of breath, even when lying down, and difficulty breathing after any type of lung involved illness such as the flu or the common cold
. Physical exertion creates great difficulty breathing.
The number one cause of emphysema is smoking. Most people believe that you have to smoke through age 50 or 60 to be diagnosed with emphysema, although people in their 30’s and 40’s may be diagnosed with emphysema. Smoking causes perpetual inflammation and damage to the lungs from numerous angles, and smoking can cause damage to the air sacs and small airways as early as the late 20’s.
Patients who are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 45 may be carrying a protein deficiency. It is possible to develop emphysema without smoking, depending on exposure to chemicals and the possibility of being deficient in the protein known as AAt, which provides protection for the elastic lining of the organs. Patients who smoke and have this deficiency are the most likely to be diagnosed with emphysema in their 30’s.
EMPHYSEMA RISK FACTOR
Risk factors for emphysema include age, as most patients develop symptoms in their 50’s or 60’s, exposure to second hand
smoke, smoking, chemical exposure in the workplace, heredity, HIV
, connective tissue disorders, exposure to pollution, and a weakened immune system.
Testing for emphysema is likely to include a physical examination, a chest x-ray
to rule out other potential causes for symptoms, a CT scan
to assess severity of lung damage and location of lung damage, a pulse oxygen reading to assess the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream, a sputum examination, and an arterial blood
gas analysis. These tests can often help to determine whether or not the cause of the symptoms is emphysema or another cause.
Image: Lung Disease
The most important part of treatment for smokers with emphysema is quitting smoking. Quitting can be very difficult and is best approached with the assistance of either nicotine
replacement products, medications, a support system, and a sense of accountability. Being exposed to second hand smoke is not beneficial for a patient who has been diagnosed with emphysema. Initially, it can make quitting smoking that much more difficult as well as expose the lungs to further damage. Family members should quit as well, or at least remove smoking from inside the home as well as in cars or other shared spaces.
Other treatment options may include the injections of the AAt protein which may be deficient per further testing. Injections of the protein are likely to help the protective lining either heal or at least cease to deteriorate any longer. Oxygen therapy in the home may help to alleviate symptoms. Bronchodilators can also help to alleviate symptoms and make the patient more comfortable. All patients should not use the same inhaler, as each patient has either a higher or lower tolerance to certain medications. Bronchodilators should be selected individually to help individual patients and their symptoms.
Learning to breathe through the diaphragm can help patients use their oxygen levels without tiring quite as significantly. Diaphragmic breathing exercises require practice daily and should be taught by a professional. Pursed lip breathing as well as deep breathing exercises can also help make the patient’s air more effective and less tiring.
Despite the difficulties presented by emphysema, patients should still participate in daily exercise to help their lungs expand as well as deliver oxygen more efficiently. Good nutrition and a healthy and caring support system have been proven to lengthen the lives of patients with all kinds of chronic debilitating diseases, including emphysema.