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GP Emphysema

Causes And Treatment Of Emphysema

Emphysema is one of the lung diseases, along with chronic bronchitis, that falls under the category of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Emphysema is a condition that causes damage to the walls of the air sacs (alveoli) of the lung and traps air inside the lungs. Once the condition develops, it cannot be reversed, so prevention is the most important aspect of treatment.

Causes Of Emphysema

The number one factor in developing emphysema is cigarette smoking, which makes emphysema one of the most preventable types of respiratory diseases. In fact, studies show that smokers are about six times more likely to develop emphysema than nonsmokers are. Other factors that are linked to causing emphysema include long term exposure to air pollutants or secondhand smoke, genetic factors, and respiratory infections.

The genetic condition of AAT deficiency is another main contributor in developing emphysema. For those born with this condition, your body cannot produce enough of the protein alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) which functions to keep white blood cells from attacking normal tissues. The body needs these cells to fight infections, but with AAT deficiency, your white blood cells will attack lung tissue and cause lung damage. Most people with AAT deficiency end up developing emphysema.

Symptoms Of Emphysema

When you begin to develop COPD conditions like emphysema, there will not typically be any symptoms to start with. The first symptom you will experience as the disease progresses is shortness of breath. As the condition shifts from mild to moderate, you may also experience wheezing, chest tightness, and a persistent cough that does not go away.

With severe emphysema, you may notice more intense symptoms such as depression, loss of appetite, sexual dysfunction, sleep problems, blue lips or nail beds, fatigue, increased mucus production, headaches, weight loss, and frequent lung infections. In most cases, symptoms may not be noticed until at least 50 percent of the lung tissue has been destroyed.

Stages Of Emphysema

There are two methods that doctors use to determine what stage of emphysema you are suffering from, known as the GOLD Emphysema Staging System and the BODE Index. The GOLD Emphysema Staging System is a set of guidelines established by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD). This system measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs in one second, known as your forced expiratory volume (FEV1).

The GOLD system will classify your emphysema into one of four stages. Group A means that your symptoms are mild and you have not been hospitalized for them, along with having little to no flare-ups. Your FEV1 is 80% or more. Group B means that your FEV1 is between 80% and 50%, and you have more intense symptoms, although you still have not required hospitalization.

Group C means that your FEV1 is between 30% to 50%, and the air flow from your lungs is very limited. You also have had more than two flare-ups in the past year, or required hospitalization at least once. Group D is known as “end-stage COPD”. This means that it is hard for you to breathe, and any new flare-ups could be life-threatening.

The BODE Index measures how much emphysema impacts your daily life by looking at four main areas. The first aspect is body mass index (B), and the second aspect is airflow limitation (O for obstruction), which is determined by how well you do on lung function tests.

The third area is shortness of breath or dyspnea (D), which your doctor will determine by asking about how often you feel out of breath, and when. The last area is exercise capacity (E), which measures how far you can walk in 6 minutes. The BODE Index gives doctors a better idea about your outcome than the Gold system, and the results can help your doctor determine the best method of treatment.

Testing For Emphysema

If you suspect that you are suffering from emphysema, your doctor can help determine if this is the case. First, your doctor will ask about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. After this, emphysema is diagnosed by running a series of tests such as pulmonary function tests, chest X-ray, CT scan, blood tests, and electrocardiogram (EKG). If your doctor determines you have emphysema, there are treatment options that can help.

Treatment For Emphysema

Although there is no cure for emphysema, treating the disease can help slow its progression. Treatment for emphysema includes quitting smoking, bronchodilator medications, anti-inflammatory medications, oxygen therapy, and lung volume reduction surgery. These treatments relieve symptoms of COPD and make it easier for people with COPD to breathe. In severe cases, you may require a lung transplant.

How GPS Can Help

At Gwinnett Pulmonary and Sleep, we offer services to help determine if you are dealing with lung conditions such as emphysema, and treatment to help if you are. These services include pulmonary function tests, such as spirometry, lung volume, and diffusion capacity; as well as pulmonary rehabilitation.

If you suspect that you may have emphysema, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible. Learn more about our services here, or schedule an appointment to talk to our doctors.

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