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Emphysema is a respiratory condition in which the supporting structures of the lung are depleted. As a result, alveoli (the air sacs of the lung) are lost and cannot effectively maintain the airflow and gas exchange functions.

Various factors can cause the inflammation and destruction of lung tissue leading to the development of emphysema. Smoking, air pollution, and exposure to chemical agents and irritants can all cause emphysema. Individuals who have a condition called Alpha-I-antitrypsin Deficiency, which is a lack of a lung-protective protein in the blood, are also at risk for emphysema.

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The main symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath noted with exertion, such as while climbing stairs. Diagnosis is made with pulmonary function testing and CAT scan of the chest.


Treatment is based on removing the offending agents (i.e. quitting smoking) and pulmonary rehabilitation to improve and preserve exercise capacity, use of bronchodilator medications, and vigorous and early treatment of any respiratory infections. For those with Alpha-I-antitrypsin Deficiency, replacing the missing protein is essential.