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WHO CARES: Chronic Illness in America
WHO CARES: Chronic Illness in America

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Emphysema

Description: Emphysema is the most common form of COPD. In emphysema caused by smoking (the vast majority of cases), the very small airways that join the alveoli are damaged, and the walls lose elasticity. In a rare, inherited form of emphysema, both the walls of the bronchioles and alveoli to which they connect are diseased.

Symptoms: Emphysema patients have typically lost between 50% and 70% of their lung tissue by the time symptoms begin to appear. Shortness of breath is the predominant early symptom. Coughing is usually minor and there is little sputum. Typically, a heavy smoker in his or her mid-50s who develops emphysema has shortness of breath with light exertion, and by age 60 may be breathless during rest or after minimal exertion.

Number of Americans diagnosed: About two million people have emphysema.

Long-term problems/treatments: If emphysema is detected before it causes symptoms, there may be some chance of reversing it. Late, severe symptoms include rapid, labored breathing and persistent air hunger even without physical exercise. Patients tend to have pinkish skin and barrel-shaped chests due to over-inflated lungs. Patients with the inherited form of early-onset emphysema are at risk for early death unless the disease is treated and its progression halted or slowed.
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Resources

American Lung Association -- Emphysema

National Emphysema Foundation

National Emphysema Treatment Trial


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