What is emphysema? What causes emphysema?

Emphysema is a severe lung disease caused by the damage to the lung’s natural air spaces called, alveoli. This results in breathing problems. It is a form of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), the main cause of which is addiction to smoking. Toxins in the cigarette smoke have the potential to damage the delicate walls of the alveoli, affecting its elasticity. This would hamper the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs, making breathing very difficult. The NHS reports 25,000 deaths every year in the UK due to COPD. 

What are the symptoms of emphysema?

Symptoms of emphysema develop slowly and get worse over time.

  • Breathlessness
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Sometimes loss of appetite, weight loss and sleeplessness may also follow.

How is emphysema diagnosed?

Diagnostic procedures and tests for emphysema include,

  • Medical history and physical examination
  • Chest X-ray: Chest X-rays are useful in both diagnosing emphysema and monitoring the treatment progress.
  • CT (computerized tomography) scans
  • Blood test: Complete blood tests are done to check for infections associated with emphysema and to measure the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Lung function tests: These tests check the efficiency of your lung in holding and expelling air during respiration. Spirometry is one of such tests that measures the amount of air expelled in a second.  These lung function tests also measure the amount of inhaled oxygen transferred to blood.
  • Oximetry: This test checks for the oxygen saturation in the blood and helps the doctor to decide whether the patient is in need of oxygen treatment.

How is emphysema treated?

The first step to treat emphysema is to quit smoking. Lung damage is irreversible. But it is possible to slow down further damage. The treatment options for emphysema include oxygen therapy, bronchodilators, corticosteroids, antibiotics, exercises to strengthen the lung walls and lung surgery. Purified human alpha-1-antitrypsin is used to treat emphysema caused by alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. Your doctor may recommend vaccinations against influenza and pneumonia to avoid respiratory infections.

Treatment cost:

It costs around $63,000 per patient for lung volume reduction surgery and six months of post-surgical treatment. Medical treatment cost comes around $13,000.

What are the preventive measures for emphysema?

  • Quit smoking
  • Stay away from secondhand smoke
  • Avoid exposure to air pollution