The rumored diagnosis of Whitney Houston with emphysema proves that anyone can contract the disease. Emphysema is a long-lasting (chronic) disease of the lungs associated with breathlessness, chronic cough, excessive sputum and progressive loss of use of lung function.
— In emphysema, there is permanent enlargement of the tiny air sacs in the lungs (called alveoli) due to the destruction of the walls between the small alveoli
— Destruction of the alveoli walls causes impaired transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide into and out of the blood.
Doctors know that changes due to damage in the lungs follow a pattern that explains why the above symptoms occur:
— The destruction of the alveoli walls with their elastic fibres makes the lungs stiffer or less elastic and makes it more difficult to breathe.
— Loss of elasticity leads to the collapse of the air passages (bronchioles), so that air cannot move out of the lungs properly and the air tends to get trapped inside the lungs.
— The reduced expansion of the lung during the next breath reduces the amount of air that is inhaled. As a result, less air for the exchange of gases gets into the lungs.
How do you get Emphysema?
Doctors know that 80-90% of cases are due to tobacco smoking. Chemicals in tobacco smoke are known to attack the lung tissue and cause damage to the air sacs. These irritant chemicals also produce inflammation of the air passages and cause other diseases like long-lasting (chronic) bronchitis, which is often seen in patients who develop emphysema.
Symptoms of Emphysema
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea) is the number one symptom of emphysema.
- A chronic cough that may or may not be productive(producing sputum)
Additionally, the following symptoms could be associated with emphysema:
- Unintentional loss of weight
- Feet and ankle swelling
A person with emphysema may develop a barrel chest in which the distance from the chest to the back is more pronounced due to trapped air within the lungs. Emphysema is slow to progress. This lung disease develops very gradually over a period of many years, and often goes unnoticed until a person begins having difficulty with breathing on mild exertion. The effects of emphysema are permanent and irreversible.