Exactly What Is Emphysema and What are the Chances of Survival?
Not Surprisingly, there is a Very Strong Smoking Connection to Getting Emphysema
Learn all you can about emphysema symptoms and treatment options if you worry about signs of lung damage, or have various stages of emphysema today please keep in mind it's never too late to stop emphysema from getting worse. It may or may not be possible to reverse emphysema and improve lung health.
Emphysema is a very serious and life-threatening chronic lung disease involving damage taking place over time to air-sacs within the lungs, which lung damage would of course negatively effect breathing. Emphysema involves an ongoing and progressive damage and destruction of lung alveoli and nearby lung tissues. With advanced or severe emphysema the large air cysts develop where normal lung tissue once was. Air is trapped in the lungs due to a lack of supportive tissue, which in-turn decreases blood oxygenation.
Smoking accounts for at least 85% of all people who pass-away which was attributable to emphysema, lung disease, lung cancer and COPD. Far and away cigarette smoking is the number-one cause of emphysema, lung cancer and lung failure. When exposed to cigarette smoke, the air sacs in the lungs produce defensive cells, called macrophages, which "eat" the inhaled particles which are stimulated to release materials destroying proteins which allow lungs to expand and contract, called elastin and collagen.
By quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke you can prevent the occurrence of emphysema and at least slow-down the lung disease down if it's already underway. Other changes to your environment, such as avoiding smog and air pollution, may also help prevent the development of emphysema, or at least keep it from worsening. If helping people recover is something you're interested in, consider getting a degree in nursing.
After a lot of medical research and news for a long time, most of us are well aware cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. Cigarettes, pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco causes over half a million Americans each year to pass-away accounting for 1 of every 5 premature demises. Emphysema from smoking ends-up fatal to lots of smokers!
Lung cancer is just the first in a long list of tobacco related serious (often fatal) health issues and chronic diseases, which include "emphysema" a very serious and often chronic medical condition. Even your skin can be damaged by smoking.
Most people don't realize long-term cigarette smoking also causes premature aging of skin. Many of the 4,000 plus chemicals in tobacco smoke also damage collagen and elastin, which are fibers giving skin its strength and elasticity. As a result, skin begins to sag and wrinkle prematurely due to smoke damage from smoking.
It's also widely believed smoking contributes significantly to arteriosclerosis and heart disease, including the onset of early heart disease. There is a considerable amount of researched evidence of other health conditions caused directly by smoking, which medical research and the gathering of doctors evidence is ongoing. Emphysema and Lung Cancer are being researched intensely with the latest nano-technology research but until now there are unfortunately no verified major medical break thru's to report at this time.
Emphysema & Lung Disease - Medical Overview
An emphysema related condition is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (aka COPD), an acronym for a group of diseases which cause progressive damage to your lungs. These diseases include chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema. Of the approximate 20-million plus Americans with C.O.P.D. it is estimated more than 3-million have symptomatic emphysema and millions more are in the early stages of the chronic lung disease before easily recognized signs and lung disease symptoms become obvious.
Unlike asthma, which occurs when the muscles in your airways tighten, emphysema causes a loss of tissue elasticity in the walls of your lungs. Eventually, the walls stretch and break, creating larger, less efficient lung air sacs that aren't able to handle the normal exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Click-here for Health Tip-of-the-Day.
When emphysema is advanced, you must work so hard to expel air from your lungs that breathing becomes difficult and breathing can consume 20-percent or more of your resting energy.
Unfortunately, because emphysema develops gradually over the course of many years, you may not experience typical emphysema and lung disease symptoms such as shortness of breath until irreversible lung damage has already occurred. Instead of an emphysema cure, emphysema treatment focuses more on relieving emphysema symptoms and avoiding serious complications.
The main signs and symptoms of emphysema are shortness of breath, breathing difficulty and lower activity and exercise abilities, both of which are likely to become worse as emphysema disease progresses. In time, you may have trouble breathing even when lying down and be especially hard to breathe during and after respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu.
Other signs and symptoms of emphysema include:
- Mild cough or chronic cough. You may produce mucus or phlegm when you cough hard.
- Loss of appetite and weight loss. It's a vicious cycle. Emphysema can make eating more difficult, and simply eating can actually take your breath away. The result is you often may not feel like eating.
- Fatigue. You're likely to feel tired both because it's more difficult to breathe and because your body is getting less oxygen than it needs.
When you inhale, air travels to your lungs through two major airways called bronchi. Inside your lungs, the bronchi subdivide like the roots of a tree into a million smaller airways (bronchioles) that finally end in clusters of tiny air sacs (alveoli). You have about 300 million air sacs in each lung. Within the walls of the air sacs are tiny blood vessels (capillaries) where oxygen is added to your blood and carbon dioxide — a waste product of metabolism — is removed. The air sac walls also contain elastic fibers that help them expand and contract like small balloons when you breathe.
What Are the Negative Effects of Emphysema?
Emphysema causes lung inflammation which slowly but surely destroys the delicate walls of the lung air sacs, causing them to slowly lose elasticity. As a result, the bronchioles collapse, and air becomes trapped in the air sacs, which over stretches them and interferes with your ability to exhale (hyperinflation).
In time, this over-stretching may cause several air sacs to rupture, forming one larger air space instead of many small ones. Because the larger, less-elastic sacs aren't able to force air completely out of your lungs when you exhale, you have to breathe harder to take in enough oxygen and to eliminate carbon dioxide.
The process works something like this: Normally, you exhale in two ways, actively and passively. When you exert yourself and need more oxygen, your chest muscles contract, forcing air out rapidly. On the other hand, when you sit quietly, your diaphragm contracts and your chest muscles expand to take air in, but your muscles don't contract to let the air out. Instead, the elastic tissue around your air sacs contracts, and your lungs can shrink.
But if you have emphysema, many elastic fibers have been destroyed and you must consciously force air out of your lungs. The forced exhalation compresses many of your small airways, making breathing and expelling air even more difficult.
Most Common Cause is Smoking
Cigarette smoke is by far the most common cause of emphysema and other serious lung conditions. The damage begins when tobacco smoke temporarily paralyzes the microscopic hairs (cilia) that line and protect your bronchial tubes.
Normally, these hairs sweep irritants and germs out of your lungs and airways. But when smoke interferes with this sweeping movement, irritants remain in your bronchial tubes and infiltrate the alveoli, inflaming the tissue and eventually breaking down elastic fibers.
Protein Deficiency Plays a Role
In a small percentage of people, emphysema results from low levels of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt), which protects the elastic structures in your lungs from the destructive effects of certain enzymes. A lack of AAt can lead to progressive lung damage that eventually results in emphysema.
AAt deficiency is a hereditary condition that occurs when you inherit two defective genes, one from each parent. Although severe AAt deficiency is rare, millions of people carry a single defective AAt gene. Some of these people have mild to moderate symptoms; others have no symptoms at all. Carriers are at increased risk of lung and liver problems and can pass the defect to their children.
People with two defective genes have a high likelihood of developing emphysema, usually between the ages of 30 and 40. The progression and severity of the disease are greatly exacerbated by smoking.
Experts recommend that people with early-onset emphysema — especially those who don't smoke or have other risk factors for the disease or who have a family history of AAt deficiency — be tested for the defective gene. People who are found to have a genetic predisposition for AAt deficiency may want to consider having close family members tested as well.
Screening and Diagnosis for Emphysema
To determine if you have emphysema, your doctor is likely to recommend certain tests, including:
- Pulmonary function tests (PFTs). These non-invasive doctor tests can detect emphysema before you have symptoms. They measure how much air your lungs can hold and the flow of air in and out of your lungs. They can also measure the amount of gases exchanged across the membrane between your walls and membranes. During the lung test, you are asked to blow into an instrument. The test may be done before and after the use of inhaled medications to test your lung response. If you're a smoker or a former smoker, ask your doctor about taking this test, even if you don't have symptoms of emphysema or COPD disease symptoms.
- Chest X-ray. You're likely to have a chest x-ray to help rule out other lung problems rather than to diagnose emphysema, even in the advanced stages of emphysema disease, chest X-rays are often normal.
- Arterial blood gases (ABG) analysis. These blood tests measure how well your lungs transfer oxygen to your bloodstream and how effectively they remove carbon dioxide.
- Pulse oximetry. This test involves use of a small device attached to your fingertip. The oximeter measures the amount of oxygen in your blood differently from the way it's measured in blood gas analysis. To help determine whether you need supplemental oxygen, the test may be performed at rest, during exercise and overnight.
- Sputum examination. Analysis of cells in sputum can help determine the cause of some lung problems.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan allows your doctor to see your organs in 2-dimensional images or "slices." Split-second computer processing creates these images as a series of very thin x-ray beams are passed thru your body. A Cat scan can detect emphysema sooner than an x-ray can, but it can't assess the severity of emphysema as accurately as a pulmonary function test.
When to consult with your health care provider
Ask your doctor if any of the following are applicable:
- You feel short of breath most of the time.
- You can't breathe well enough to tolerate even moderate exercise.
- You frequently cough-up sputum that's colored and possibly infected.
These signs and symptoms don't necessarily mean you have emphysema, but they do indicate your lungs may not be functioning well and should be evaluated by your doctor as soon as possible.
Self-care for Emphysema
If you have emphysema, you can take a number of steps to halt its progression and to protect yourself from emphysema complications:
- Stop smoking NOW!.This is the most important measure you can possibly take for your overall health and wellness and to avoid getting emphysema. No smoking is the only one way to at least stop or slow emphysema lung disease progression. Join a stop-smoking program if you need help giving up smoking. As much as possible, avoid secondhand smoke. Sit in nonsmoking areas when you're out, and ask family and friends not to smoke in your home.
- Avoid other respiratory irritants. These include fumes from paint and automobile exhaust, some cooking odors, certain perfumes, even burning candles and incense. Keep the humidity level in your home at 40 percent to 50 percent, and change furnace and air conditioner filters regularly to limit pollutants.
- Exercise regularly. Try not to let your breathing problems keep you from getting regular exercise, which can significantly increase your capacity for physical activity. Simple breathing techniques also can help.
- Clear your airways. With emphysema, mucus tends to collect in your air passages and can be difficult to clear. To keep secretions thin and easy to bring up, drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids every day.
- Protect yourself from cold air. During cold weather wear a soft scarf or a cold-air mask — available from a pharmacy — over your mouth and nose to warm the air that's entering your lungs. For the same reason, breathe through your nose because cold air can cause spasms of the bronchial passages.
- Avoid respiratory infections. Get a pneumonia vaccination as advised by your doctor and an annual influenza (flu) shot. A pneumonia vaccine should be effective for several years and is not needed annually like the flu vaccine. Stay away from people who have a cold or flu (in particular, avoid shaking hands). If you have to mingle with large groups of people during cold and flu season, wash your hands frequently and carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket or purse. Try to avoid touching the inside of your nose or rubbing your eyes, which is the way you pick up most viral infections.
- Maintain good nutrition. A well-balanced diet gives your body the nutrients it needs for energy, for building and maintaining cells, and for regulating body processes. Work toward and maintain a desirable body weight. Being overweight requires more oxygen and can interfere with breathing (Editor's Note: so lose weight ASAP. If you're underweight, achieving a healthy weight may increase your strength. When the effort to eat is taxing, you may need to eat smaller meals more frequently. Some people are helped by eating their larger meal earlier in the day and avoiding lying down after meals. Choosing soft, easy-to-digest foods such as yogurt, rice, baked potatoes, and baked chicken or fish also may help. Fruits with high vitamins like cantaloupe and tangerines are also good. Herbs can also be helpful.
- Express your feelings. Having emphysema or COPD may cause a gradual change in your lifestyle and that of your family. Share your feelings and concerns about your disease with your family, friends and doctor. Be alert to changes in your mood and your relations with others. Living with emphysema can be difficult. Don't be afraid to seek counseling if you feel depressed or overwhelmed.
- Consider joining a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease support group. You may also want to consider joining a support group for people with emphysema. Although disease support groups aren't for everyone, they can be a good source of information about new treatments and coping strategies. And it can be encouraging to be around other people who are meeting the same medical challenges you are. If you're interested in a support group, talk to your doctor. Or contact your local chapter of the American Lung Association.
Coping with Emphysema and Breathing Exercises
Some simple exercises can improve your breathing if you have emphysema or another chronic lung disorder. They help you control the emptying of your lungs by using your abdominal muscles. Do them 3 to 5 times daily.
To perform this type of breathing exercise, take these steps:
- Lie on your back with your head and knees supported by pillows. Begin by breathing in and out slowly and smoothly in a rhythmic pattern. Relax.
- Place your fingertips on your abdomen, just below the base of your rib cage. As you inhale slowly, you should feel your diaphragm lifting your hand.
- Practice pushing your abdomen against your hand as your chest becomes filled with air. Make sure your chest remains motionless. Try this while inhaling through your mouth and counting slowly to three. Then purse your lips and exhale through your mouth while counting slowly to six.
Practice diaphragmatic breathing on your back until you can take 10 to 15 consecutive breaths in one session without tiring. Then practice it on one side and then on the other. Progress to doing the exercise while sitting erect in a chair, standing up, walking and climbing stairs (if possible).
Try diaphragmatic breathing exercises with your lips puckered — the flow of air should make a soft "sssss" sound. Inhale deeply through your mouth and exhale. Repeat 10 times at each session.
While sitting or standing, pull your elbows strongly back while deeply inhaling. Hold the breath in with your chest arched, for a count of 2 to 4 seconds, then force the air out by contracting your abdominal muscles hard. To achieve the optimum benefits from deep breathing exercise you should repeat this lung health exercise routine 10 or more times, several times a day.
A special thanks to The Mayo Clinic and its Foundation for Medical Education and Research, who contributed some content to Emphysema Organization website.
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