What is emphysema?

What is emphysema?

John (Gold)
Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

11 Nov 2000, 03:31 #1

Above is a basic video clip explaining emphysema as a form of COPD. Below is an Amercian Lung Association article on emphysema. Many of us have been told that we have early emphysema. We invite you to either post to this thread sharing your story or send it to [url=mailto:managers@whyquit.com]managers@whyquit.com[/url]. Maybe Joel or one of you can help answer my basic questions. As stated below, emphysema results from the destruction of our alveoloi. The explanations that I keep reading, including this one, make it sound like that except for an extremely small portion of victims who may inherit a specific gene, that the damage to our alveoloi is caused by external substances that enter the lung and eventually lead to permanent damage.
My questions are: (1) Is emphysema a true disease in the traditional sense; and, (2) although the alveoli once destroyed can't repair themselves, does additional harm and damage immediately cease once we quit smoking?


John (Zep)

From the American Lung Association
What Is Emphysema?
Emphysema is a condition in which there is over-inflation of structures in the lungs known as alveoli or air sacs. This over-inflation results from a breakdown of the walls of the alveoli, which causes a decrease in respiratory function (the way the lungs work) and often, breathlessness.
Early symptoms of emphysema include shortness of breath and cough.
How Serious Is Emphysema?
Emphysema is a widespread disease of the lungs. In 1993, 1.9 million people in the U.S. had emphysema.

It is estimated that 50,000 to 100,000 Americans living today were born with a deficiency of a protein known as alpha 1-antitrypsin (AAT) which can lead to an inherited form of emphysema.
Emphysema ranks 15th among chronic conditions that contribute to activity limitations: over 43 percent of individuals with emphysema report that their daily activities have been limited by the disease.
Many of the people with emphysema are older men, but the condition is increasing among women. Males with emphysema outnumber females by 22 percent.
Causes Of Emphysema
The lung has a system of elastic fibers. The fibers allow the lungs to expand and contract. It is known from scientific research that the normal lung has a remarkable balance between two classes of chemicals with opposing action.

When the chemical balance is altered, the lungs lose the ability to protect themselves against the destruction of these elastic fibers. This is what happens in emphysema.
There are a number of reasons this chemical imbalance occurs. Smoking is responsible for 82 percent of chronic lung disease, including emphysema. Exposure to air pollution is one suspected cause. Irritating fumes and dusts on the job also are thought to be a factor.
A small number of people with emphysema have a rare inherited form of the disease called alpha 1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency-related emphysema, or early onset emphysema. This form of disease is caused by an inherited lack of a protective protein called alpha 1-antitrypsin (AAT).
How Does Emphysema Develop?
Emphysema begins with the destruction of air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs where oxygen from the air is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the blood. The walls of the air sacs are thin and fragile. Damage to the air sacs is irreversible and results in permanent "holes" in the tissues of the lower lungs.

As air sacs are destroyed, the lungs are able to transfer less and less oxygen to the bloodstream, causing shortness of breath. The lungs also lose their elasticity. The patient experiences great difficulty exhaling.
Emphysema doesn't develop suddenly, it comes on very gradually. Years of exposure to the irritation of cigarette smoke usually precede the development of emphysema.
A person may initially visit the doctor because he or she has begun to feel short of breath during activity or exercise. As the disease progresses, a brief walk can be enough to bring on difficulty in breathing. Some people may have had chronic bronchitis before developing emphysema.
Treatment For Emphysema
Doctors can help persons with emphysema live more comfortably with their disease. The goal of treatment is to provide relief of symptoms and prevent progression of the disease with a minimum of side effects. The doctor's advice and treatment may include:

Quitting smoking: the single most important factor for maintaining healthy lungs.
Bronchodilator drugs (prescription drugs that relax and open air passages in the lungs): may be prescribed to treat emphysema if there is a tendency toward airway constriction or tightening. These drugs may be inhaled as aerosol sprays or taken orally.
Antibiotics: if you have a bacterial infection, such as pneumococcal pneumonia.
Exercise: including breathing exercises to strengthen the muscles used in breathing as part of a pulmonary* rehabilitation program to condition the rest of the body.
*The term "pulmonary" refers to the lungs.
Treatment: with Alpha 1-Proteinase Inhibitor (A1PI) only if a person has AAT deficiency-related emphysema. A1PI is not recommended for those who develop emphysema as a result of cigarette smoking or other environmental factors.
Lung transplantation: most recent reports have been encouraging and the success rate continues to increase.
Lung reduction surgery: this new technique shows promise. Experience at this time is limited.
Emphysema Research
Continuing research is being done to find answers to many questions about emphysema, especially about the best ways to prevent the disease.

Researchers know that quitting smoking can prevent the occurrence and decrease the progression of emphysema. Other environmental controls can also help prevent the disease.
If an individual has emphysema, the doctor will work hard to prevent the disease from getting worse by keeping the patient healthy and clear of any infection. The patient can participate in this prevention effort by following these general health guidelines:

Emphysema is a serious disease. It damages your lungs, and it can damage your heart. See your doctor at the first sign of symptoms.
DON'T SMOKE. A majority of those who get emphysema are smokers. Continued smoking makes emphysema worse, especially for those who have AAT deficiency, the inherited form of emphysema.
Maintain overall good health habits, which include proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and regular exercise to build up your stamina and resistance to infections.
Reduce your exposure to air pollution, which may aggravate symptoms of emphysema. Refer to radio or television weather reports or your local newspaper for information about air quality. On days when the ozone (smog) level is unhealthy, restrict your activity to early morning or evening. When pollution levels are dangerous, remain indoors and stay as comfortable as possible.
Consult your doctor at the start of any cold or respiratory infection because infection can make your emphysema symptoms worse. Ask about getting vaccinated against influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia.
COPD: A Growing Problem
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a term that generally applies to chronic bronchitis and/or emphysema, has increased by a dramatic 57 percent between 1982 and 1993.

Today, chronic bronchitis and emphysema combined constitute the most common chronic lung disease, affecting 15.8 million people in the U.S.
The number of lives claimed by chronic lung disease has increased sharply, too. In 1979, it accounted for about 50,000 deaths. In 1982, the number rose to 59,000 and by 1992, the number of deaths reached 86,974.

Last edited by John (Gold) on 06 Jul 2013, 17:35, edited 6 times in total.

Joined: 07 Jan 2009, 19:34

17 Dec 2000, 00:39 #2

Thank you for this post. Its just what I needed to read.


Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

08 Jan 2001, 07:56 #3

Again in follow-up to Joseph's letter on lung repair.
Last edited by Joel on 06 Jul 2013, 17:39, edited 1 time in total.

John (Gold)
Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

11 May 2001, 03:22 #4

Below is the best close up photo I've been able to locate of emphysema.
It isn't hard to see that these air sacks will no longer hold air.
I wonder how many of mine look like that?
Last edited by John (Gold) on 06 Apr 2009, 10:21, edited 1 time in total.

Joined: 07 Jan 2009, 18:59

11 May 2001, 03:39 #5

Zep thanks. Good to read more. Spending some time cruising around here to keep reading. The Tiggers Article was good, and the one on medical issues regarding lungs. Lots here, especially all those awful pictures. Can't answer either of you questions ... would be interesting to ask my doctor. I'm pretty sure it takes some months for them to heal. Actually, this IS what my Dr. told me on Monday, because I was having trouble with my lungs (lots more than usual). He said to be patient. It would take a few months. Whew. And the pictures on the ciggerettes packs (alot of them) have been out here in Ontario, Canada. Consiously, I don't think they made much of an impact on me ... and most serious smokers that I know... until I/we get sick. The "It won't happen to me sydrome. Thanks
sunshineray 14th and counting again.

Triin (GOLD)
Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:59

11 May 2001, 05:52 #6

Thanks again Zep for the information Image You have sure worked hard to provide us with the best education and information about smoking as possible. About your questions...I think it's a language barrier, because I can't quite understand what you mean by the first question "Is emphysema a true disease in the traditional sense". Could I interpret it like this "Would there be emphysema if there wouldn't be smoking in the world? (without counting the hereditary form of it)". I find the second question very interesting, too.

I have been Quit for: 2M 2W 5D 23h 51m 22s. I have NOT smoked 1619, for a savings of $111.37. Life Saved: 5D 14h 55m.

John (Gold)
Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

11 May 2001, 09:22 #7

I guess I didn't make that question very clear or maybe only my mind sees disease in such a light but let me try again. In my mind a disease is something that continues to spread once you develop it. Sort of like a cancer. Sometimes medicine uses the word disease in situations where the condition doesn't spread at all. For example, you may at some point in your life hear the phrase "degenerative disc disease" in reference to the spine. It sounds pretty bad and I've seen it scare lots of folks with back problems. In reality it's nothing more than the discs in our spine losing their moisture and drying out as we age. Just like most of us experience more skin wrinkles as we age and gradually seeing our hair thin, it's a natural part of the aging process for most of us - yet it is still called a disease.

With emphysema, my question about it really being a disease is along the same lines. Although just like our spine our lungs certainly age with time, if we quit smoking and quit putting other harmful things into our lungs does the progression of the disease stop or slow tremendously, or is it more like a cancer that continues to spread? From what I've read (since first posting this article) I now believe that the damage is never correctable but, aside from normal aging, that quitting really does help almost stop further damage. Anyway, that's what I want to think Image I guess we all do!

LadynRed (Green)
Joined: 07 Jan 2009, 20:39

11 May 2001, 09:52 #8

Zep, from what I researched and what my dr. told me, what you stated in your last post on this thread is 100 percent right.

Grace Image

Sewquilts (GOLD)
Joined: 19 Dec 2008, 00:00

11 May 2001, 10:16 #9

Zep, being a nurse who works with the elderly patients, a lot of them with COPD which includes emphysema and asthma, who continually need respiratory treatments. I see respiratory techs all the time...and after I was told that I had beginning emphysema, I have questioned all of the techs...this is what they tell me in short... the parts of the lungs that are dead will never recover...but the tissue in the lungs that is a sleep, (meaning coated) will wake up when the damaging sorce is stopped being put into the lungs....this is not a progressive disease unless you continue to put into the lungs the sorce that is doing the damage...sorces include smoking, chemicals, etc.....

And after seeing so many of those patients struggle for something that we all take for granted (a breath) you would think that I should have been able to quit smoking long ago...that is how powerful addicting nicotine is...
Patients tell me that their breathing is like breathing with a pillow over their face all the time...try that out..put a pillow over your face and breath....difficult...and they breath like that all the time...they also have times when they are in a crisis...like humidity increases, catching a cold.....man or man how these patients STRUGGLE for their next breath...

Joined: 18 Dec 2008, 23:57

14 Aug 2001, 20:09 #10

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/Gf0tsDrgx2k" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

One of our members wrote me today asking for materials with specific symptoms of emphysema. I am bringing up the posts we have on emphysema and COPD in general. If anyone knows of any good links that cover the symptoms please feel free to attach it here.
Last edited by Joel on 06 Jul 2013, 17:37, edited 1 time in total.