Smoking and Emphysema

Smoking can lead to many health conditions, many of which are reversible or treatable. One disease however that is not is emphysema.

ThinkstockPhotos-490992422When someone has emphysema, the tiny air sacs (alveoli) at the end of the airways in their lungs are damaged. When these sacs are damaged or destroyed, their walls weaken and eventually rupture. Ultimately, this reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches their bloodstream. Smoking is the leading cause of emphysema.

While emphysema is most likely to develop in cigarette smokers, cigar and pipe smokers also are susceptible. The risk for all types of smokers increases with the number of years and amount of tobacco smoked. Other factors include:

• Age
• Exposure to secondhand smoke
• Occupational exposure to fumes or dust
• Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollution

The main symptoms of emphysema are shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Because these symptoms develop gradually, you can have emphysema for many years without knowing it.

See your doctor if you’ve had unexplained shortness of breath for several months, especially if it’s getting worse or it’s interfering with your daily activities. Don’t try to attribute it to deconditioning, age or weight. Seek immediate medical attention if:

• You’re so short of breath that you can’t perform basic activities such as climb stairs
• Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray with exertion
• You’re not mentally alert

Tests to determine if you have emphysema include imaging and lab tests. Lung function tests to measure how well air flows in and out of your lungs may also be performed.

Unfortunately, emphysema is not currently curable, but there are medications and therapies that can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. In extreme cases your doctor may suggest one or more different types of surgery.

If you have emphysema, you can take a number of steps to halt its progression and to protect yourself from complications, including exercising regularly and avoiding irritants, but the most important measure you can take for your overall health and the only one that might halt the progression of emphysema is to STOP SMOKING.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.