Diagnosed With Emphysema – What Next?


What is Emphysema? It is a lung disease that is characterized by shortness of breath. People with this disease usually suffer from chronic bronchitis and when the two diseases are combined it is known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Emphysema is often misspelled as emphasema or emphazema.

In the structure of the lungs air is taken in through the windpipe to the bronchi which are the two main tubes that lead into the lung, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place in the lung by small air sacks in the lung called alveoli. Oxygen molecules dissolve and move across a thin film of moisture from the air sac and then in to the bloodstream. This oxygenated blood is sent to the major organs of the body, first to the heart, and then pumped around the rest of the body. At the same time, carbon dioxide in the blood crosses from the capillaries to the air sacs, using the same film of moisture. The carbon dioxide is then breathed out through either the mouth or nose.

When a person has emphysema these air sacks, the alveoli, are damaged and the main tubes to the lung, the bronchi, may also be damaged which means that a person in the later stages of the disease may not get enough oxygen to the brain and other major organs of the body and will struggle to breathe normally. The airways of the lungs, the bronchi, are elastic. Repeated exposure to chemical irritants, such as cigarette smoke causes the alveoli and bronchioles lose their elasticity. The exchange of movement of oxygen from the air to the blood becomes much more difficult.

As most people with emphysema also have bouts chronic bronchitis and at times when both are present vast amounts of mucus stress, produced as a symptom of bronchitis, clog the air sacs and this further reduce the lung’s normal capacity. The number of capillaries servicing the damaged alveoli gradually reduces over time. The person with emphysema has to breathe in a more exaggerated way to get sufficient amounts of oxygen and appears to be gasping for air when completing simple tasks like walking a short distance. Some sufferers explain that can feel like they are being suffocated and the only way to get rid these anxious feelings is to stay calm and not panic.

It is generally caused by cigarette smoking and long term exposure to certain industrial pollutants (like asbestos) or dust. There are a small amount of people who may have the genetically inherited disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency which also causes emphysema. There is no known medical cure for this disease as the airways do not have the capacity to regenerate and heal.

Symptoms of emphysema can include:

• Breathlessness upon exertion or exercise
• In later stages, breathlessness all the time
• More like to get chest infections
• Sputum produced with chronic bronchitis
• Excessive coughing
• Fatigue and tiredness
• Expansion of the lungs in size and also ribcage.
• Cyanosis which is a blue tinge to the skin due to lack of oxygen.

People with emphysema can also be more likely to have repeated lung infections and bouts with pneumonia, have a much higher risk of collapsed lung after coughing fits and also more likely to have heart problems as the heart is forced to work harder if there is a lack of oxygen in the blood.

Treatment options can include:

• Abstain from smoking immediately
• Anti-inflammatory drugs and medications such as corticosteroids and decongestants.
• Medications to widen the airways in puffer or tablet form like as used for asthma sufferers.
• Antibiotics to clear up bronchitis infection.
• Stress management techniques.
• Healthy diet plan and good nutrition.
• Gentle, regular exercise to improve overall fitness.
• Yearly vaccination against influenza to protect against respiratory infection.
• Respiratory rehabilitation programs.
• Oxygen treatment, in severe cases.

If you have been diagnosed with emphysema, it is a great idea to speak to your doctor about respiratory rehabilitation programs. The most positive thing you can do is to look at ways of minimizing the symptoms and take advice from medical professionals who can guide you. Respiratory rehabilitation programs provide you with up to date information, latest research facts, support and education on this lung disease. They can teach effective management techniques and offer advice on adapting to life with emphysema.

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