Prof. B. Amole
26th March 2012
During the course of a lifetime, the average person will take some 600 million breaths. Most people can keep their lungs healthy by simply avoiding tobacco smoke, other noxious fumes and maintaining a good diet. Even when emphysema causes damage, early diagnosis and treatment can slow the process, ward off complications and improve quality of life. New therapies are on the way, but simple prevention is the best treatment of all. After all, what is more important than preserving the breath of life? (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: It Takes Your Breath way 1-4).
Emphysema is increasing in the United States, Canada and other developed countries primarily because of cigarette smoking. It is almost entirely a disease of adults. Here are some demographics on the disease.
About 12 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with the disease as of 2009; however, many doctors believe emphysema is under diagnosed. Between 4-6% of male adults and 1-3% of female adults in North America are estimated to have emphysema. The number of women diagnosed with the disease is rising rapidly; the year 2000 was the first year that more women than men were identified as having emphysema. In 2005, almost 66,000 females died compared to 61,000 males (Deanna et al). According to the American Lung Association(ALA), the cost to the U.S for COPD each year is approximately $42.6 billion including $26.7 billion in direct health care expenditures, $8billion in indirect morbidity costs and $7.9 billion in indirect mortality costs.
Rates of emphysema are rising worldwide as more people in the developing countries take up cigarette smoking. The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) estimates that 9-10% of adults around the world have either chronic bronchitis or emphysema (Deanna et al).
What is Emphysema?
Emphysema is a lung disease, a kind of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in which a person's ability to breathe easily and deeply is steadily weakened over time by the destruction of lung tissue. The human lung consists of tissue containing millions of tiny air sacs called alveoli, which are arranged like bunches of grapes around very small air tubes called bronchioles. There are about 300 million alveoli in each lung. When breathing occurs, the air travels from the nose and mouth through the windpipe and then into the right and left bronchi which are the main air passages into each of the two lungs. To perform their functions effectively, the tissue in the lungs that separates the alveoli from one another needs to be as elastic as possible. What happens in emphysema is that tobacco smoke or other irritants causes the alveoli to become inflamed and lose their elasticity. The bronchioles start to collapse which traps air inside the alveoli and overstretches them. In time, the alveoli rupture leading to the formation of fewer but larger air sacs in the lungs. The smaller areas of alveoli destruction are known as blebs and the larger ones are called bullae. The bullae are less efficient in forcing air out of the lungs when exhalation takes place. As a result, the person has to breathe more frequently or harder in order to get enough oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. In addition, more mucous is secreted than usual causing a clogging that further makes breathing more difficult(Deanna et al)
What Causes Emphysema?
Smoking is responsible for about 85% of cases; heavy smokers are at highest risk. Airborne toxins account for COPD in many non- smokers. Second hand smoke is another likely contributor. In others, an inherited deficiency of a protein called aplha1-antitrypsin that keeps the lung is to blame. But in some cases, no cause is apparent (COPD: It takes Your Breath Away1-4).
Emphysema starts gradually and progresses slowly; the reason...