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The Respiratory System

The respiratory system is the group of organs that is responsible for breathing. The respiratory system is composed of the nose, mouth, throat, airways, lungs, and diaphragm. The system's key function is to regulate the biological process by which we breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide known as gas exchange.

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Every cell in the human body needs oxygen in order to function. The air that comes into the body through the lungs contains oxygen and other gases. That air is pumped into the lungs by contraction of the diaphragm. In the lungs, the oxygen is moved into the bloodstream and carried through the body. Each individual alveoli then takes the oxygen and exchanges it for carbon dioxide. The bloodstream then carries this waste gas back to the lungs where it is removed from the blood stream and then exhaled from the body. Once oxygen is absorbed in the blood it is pumped by the heart through the arterial system to the various parts and tissues of the body. This oxygen provided to the body allows the body to survive and function properly.

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Breathing starts at the nose and mouth. You inhale air into your nose or mouth, and it travels down the back of your throat and into your windpipe, or trachea. Your trachea then divides into air passages called bronchial tubes. As the bronchial tubes pass through the lungs, they divide into smaller air passages called bronchioles. The bronchioles end in tiny balloon-like air sacs called alveoli. Your body has over 300 million alveoli. The alveoli are surrounded by a mesh of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. Oxygen from the inhaled air passes through the alveoli walls and into the blood. After absorbing oxygen, the blood leaves the lungs and is carried to your heart.

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Your heart then pumps it through your body to provide oxygen to the cells of your tissues and organs. As the cells use the oxygen, carbon dioxide is produced and absorbed into the blood. Your blood then carries the carbon dioxide back to your lungs through the capillaries, where it is removed from the body when you exhale.

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Pulmonary Medicine And Sleep

Pulmonary or respiratory medicine is a specialty dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of breathing disorders and the lungs. The impact of pulmonary disease is vast.

5% of the U.S. population, more than 15 million people, are afflicted with asthma causing about 5000 deaths yearly. 10% of the US population, or more than 30 million individuals, have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema, bronchitis, and asthmatic bronchitis. After cancer and cardiac disease, COPD will cause more deaths in the US than any other condition. Similarly, about 30 million Americans have asthma. Both COPD and asthma are on the rise.

The most common form of cancer in the US is lung cancer. Other pulmonary conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, and pulmonary hypertension cause significant morbidity and mortality.

Breathing disorders during sleep, such as sleep apnea, affect more than 20 million people (both children and adults) and expose the patients to cardiovascular disease (heart attack, cardiac arrhythmia, and heart failure, for example), high blood pressure, strokes, depression, car accidents, and poor performance in school or at work.

The manifestations and symptoms of these disorders can be quite subtle and often indistinguishable from other diseases such as cardiac disease, obesity, and diabetes to name a few.

Today, treatment of respiratory disease has evolved remarkably over time. In addition to multiple and highly specific new medications, other treatment options such as rehabilitation, exercise training, nutrition, psychosocial support, lifestyle modifications, and patient and family participation have become powerful tools to achieve patient-centered, holistic, and functional improvement in patient quality of life with a reduction of mortality and morbidity in these patients. To effectively deploy these treatments, a physician who receives specialized training in the field of pulmonary medicine is needed. Because other diseases, such as those of the heart, have similar symptoms, a highly-trained pulmonologist should be consulted in order to arrive at the correct diagnosis and treatment plan.