Symptoms and Signs of Emphysema: Life Expectancy and Treatment

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Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Doctor's Notes on Emphysema: Life Expectancy and Treatment

Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in which the alveoli (small sacs) in the lung that allow for oxygen exchange between the air and the bloodstream are destroyed. The most common cause of emphysema in the US and in many other countries is cigarette smoking. Exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution, and toxic fumes or dust in the environment are is also a risk factor for developing emphysema. Less commonly, genetic conditions such as alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can cause the condition.

Destruction of lung tissue in emphysema leads to the primary symptom of the condition, shortness of breath, medically known as dyspnea. Shortness of breath may first arise with exercise or activity, but it gradually worsens over time. Wheezing is typically an associated symptom.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.