In the United States there are almost two million people who suffer from emphysema. It is a common chronic condition that many people have to live with. Emphysema symptoms are challenging to live with on a daily basis. Emphysema is a disease of the lungs usually caused by smoking, from working around harmful chemicals or continued exposure to second had smoke. The typical person with emphysema is around 65 years of age and is male. Women can have emphysema too but it is more prevalent in men.
The first signs of emphysema begin with shortness of breath that worsens over time. After awhile the person will experience coughing spells and may being to spit up sputum. Emphysema symptoms are a sign that the airways of the lungs have experienced permanent damage. The shortness of breath will eventually lead to a reduced capacity for physical activity. As time goes by the person will be able to do less and less physical activity due to not getting enough oxygen. The shortness of breath may eventually even occur during rest and the person’s skin can take on a bluish tint. Air trapped in the damaged lungs is what causes the shortness of breath and wheezing. As the lung tissue is damaged it will become hardened and lose elasticity and become inflamed. Air breathed in gets trapped in the airways and the natural ability for it to be released easily from the lungs is impaired. As the person breathes in there will be no room for fresh air with life giving oxygen because of the already trapped air taking up lung capacity. Because oxygen is then reduced in the blood, the person experiences shortness of breath and their breathing becomes labored. This difficulty in breathing will increase over time.
Other emphysema symptoms include loss of appetite with the resulting weight loss and a feeling of weakness. Eating may actually worsen emphysema symptoms, because when one eats the stomach expands. This causes the diaphragm to be squeezed as the stomach presses on it which tends to make breathing difficult too.
If you are experiencing frequent or prolonged episodes of shortness of breath you should go to your doctor for a check up. If the doctors suspects emphysema he or she will normally suggest going to a pulmonary specialist for a peak flow test. This is a test that uses a peak flow meter to measure breathing and lung capacity. Chest x-rays are normally done also when a person is experiencing emphysema symptoms. The x-ray will reveal fluid build up if the person has emphysema. They will also test for arterial blood gases from carbon dioxide.
When emphysema symptoms are severe enough the person is usually given oxygen to help them breathe better. Oxygen will also help them be more comfortable. There are other tests that are done to determine the extent of the disease and to determine how damaged the airways are.
There are some new treatments that help relieve emphysema symptoms and that can stabilize the disease. Prednisone and bronchodilators help many people as well as steroids. Albuterol is also used a lot to help people with emphysema. Lung transplants are sometimes done for people who have severe emphysema. Lung reduction surgery is preferred however since lung transplants are very difficult and result in a lot of complications afterward. Lung reduction surgery reduces lung size and can actually help the person with emphysema to breathe better. There is no cure for emphysema, only breathing treatments and oxygen as well as some surgery can help the person live with their emphysema symptoms. Not smoking, avoiding harmful chemicals and staying away from second hand smoke can help prevent emphysema. Proper diet and nutrition also play and important role in maintaining healthy lungs.
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