Emphysema is a lung disease that is categorized as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD.) People who have emphysema are unable to expel old air to take in fresh air due to damaged air sacs (alveoli) inside the lungs.
In most cases, people who get emphysema are cigarette smokers or past smokers. Secondhand smoke, exposure to air pollution, and dust exposure can also contribute to emphysema. The older a person gets, the higher the chances of developing emphysema. However, older adults who don't smoke or have significant exposure to smoke, dust, or pollution are quite unlikely to develop emphysema.
Breathing problems are the clearest indicators of emphysema. This shortness of breath can occur at any point but is usually most noticeable after some type of physical exertion. Wheezing is a common result of fighting to breathe freely. Some people with emphysema feel a tightening in their chest at times, and they may even suffer from chest pain.
There are a couple of tests that can determine whether a patient is dealing with emphysema. Sometimes the symptoms of emphysema can be similar to those of heart problems, so having these tests done is very important when patients are showing any potential symptoms. A chest x-ray is usually done to eliminate heart failure as a cause of the symptoms. Lung function tests, during which the patient expels air from their lungs to check the capacity of the lungs, may be performed to help diagnose emphysema. It is also common for the doctor to test blood oxygen levels to help determine whether emphysema is causing the patient's problems.
Emphysema treatment is usually multi-part until the doctor and patient determine exactly what works best for their particular case. Many people find relief with bronchodilators (inhalers,) antibiotic medication, or even supplemental oxygen if needed.
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