Emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Emphysema is a progressive, destructive lung disease in which the walls between the tiny air sacs in the lungs are damaged. As a result, the lungs lose their elasticity and exhaling becomes more and more difficult. Air remains trapped in the overinflated lungs.
Emphysema patients report increasing shortness of breath, especially with activity, as well as variable degrees of coughing and wheezing, and irreversible airflow obstruction. Heredity may play a part in the tendency to develop emphysema, but the disease is clearly worsened by smoking, air pollution, exposure to dust and fumes, and lung infections.
Together with asthma and chronic bronchitis, emphysema is part of a group of diseases that share a common feature – difficulty in expelling air from the lungs. We refer to this group as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD is the most common form of pulmonary dysfunction today.
The fourth leading cause of death in United States, COPD is also the second major cause of disability (behind coronary artery disease). Over 15 million adult Americans have COPD. While hereditary and environmental factors can play a role in causing or aggravating COPD, smoking is responsible for 82% of cases.