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Asbestos and Emphysema

Emphysema is a progressive lung condition that prevents lung tissue from holding its shape and decreases function, causing severe shortness of breath. Small air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli, normally transfer oxygen to the blood. Emphysema occurs when the walls of these air sacs break down, making the alveoli bigger and less able to transfer oxygen. The condition is part of a larger category of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, or COPD.

Symptoms of Emphysema

Shortness of breath during exercise or exertion is the initial symptom. As the disease progresses, a person may find it difficult to breathe with light exercise and walking. Eventually, he or she might have trouble breathing even in a resting position. Other symptoms may include wheezing, coughing, frequent colds, and fatigue.

Diagnosis

To determine whether a person has emphysema, a doctor may listen to the patient's lungs with a stethoscope and perform chest x-rays. However, the definitive tests in completing a diagnosis include a blood test that shows the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide present, and a spirometry test. This procedure involves blowing into a machine to test the capacity of the lungs.

Causes

The primary cause of emphysema is tobacco smoking. In some cases, people can develop emphysema because of environmental exposure to gases and fumes over long periods of time in the workplace or at home. Pollution and secondhand smoke can also contribute to the disease. In rare instances, certain people who genetically lack the alpha-1 antitrypsin can also develop emphysema.

Cure

A cure for emphysema, or any COPD condition, is not available at this time. However, a person with the disease can manage it to reduce symptoms and stop the emphysema from progressing further. The first step for tobacco users is to quit smoking. Next, a patient should practice good nutrition, slowly build up exercise through walking, and avoid environmental irritants such as secondhand smoke and fireplace smoke.

A patient may also want to talk to his or her doctor about taking certain medications, including anti-inflammatories, steroids to reduce lung inflammation, and bronchodilators to open up airways. A patient whose condition is further along may need a breathing machine or oxygen therapy. Antibiotics are also typically prescribed to combat common infections. In the most extreme circumstances, surgery may be performed to remove part of the damaged lung, which may help the other parts of the lung function better. Lung transplants may be performed in very serious circumstances.

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Complications

Complications with the heart as well as pneumonia, malnutrition, and osteoporosis can arise if emphysema is not properly treated. If you have any of the symptoms of emphysema or have been diagnosed with the disease, please contact your doctor and find the best option for treatment and management. You may also contact us so that we can send you the best information and resources that can help you take charge of your health.

Last Edited: Thu November 14, 2013