Learn about the causes of Emphysema & find a practitioner in Auckland, Hamilton, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin to help you overcome Emphysema within New Zealand.
Emphysema is a chronic progressive lung condition that affects the structure of the lung. Emphysema occurs when the walls of the alveoli (the small air sacs in the lung) and the capillary blood vessels become damaged, typically from smoking. Emphysema reduces the total surface area of the lung making it harder to breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Resulting effects of emphysema include hyperventilation (increased breathing rate), pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs) and hypertrophy (an enlarged heart which can result in heart failure).
Causes of emphysema
Emphysema is mainly caused by smoking and the associated toxins that are inhaled into the lungs. These toxins activate inflammatory cells within the lung that causes damage to the lung's structure. Inflammation swells the bronchioles (small airways of the lung) and activates enzymes that destroy lung tissue.
In some cases, a genetic disposition to emphysema is the cause. A rare genetic deficiency condition known as alpha 1-antitrypsin leaves the lungs susceptible to damage.
Emphysema can also be caused through natural ageing. As the lungs age, so elasticity decreases leading to the development of tensions that can result in small areas of emphysema.
Less common causes include intravenous drug use which can be toxic to the lungs or immune system deficiencies which cause inflammatory changes to the lungs. In underdeveloped countries, air pollution from kitchen stoves can result in lung damage.
Symptoms of emphysema
Symptoms of emphysema typically develop after 50 years of age and the condition is characterised by a shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.
Breathlessness first develops during or after activity but as the disease worsens episodes become more frequent and shortness of breath occurs even when at rest.
Diagnosis of emphysema
A GP will make an initial assessment by asking about your symptoms. They will question you on how long the periods of breathlessness last and if anything makes them better or worse. They will also ask about the severity of your symptoms and if you are a smoker or are exposed to second-hand smoke or other toxic fumes. The GP will also ask if there is a family history of lung disease.
The GP will then perform a physical examination and listen to your chest and lungs. They will assess your respiratory rate and check for the shape of your chest cavity.
Further testing may be required to make an accurate diagnosis. Tests can include a pulmonary function test which identifies how much air the lungs can hold and the degree of airflow obstruction. You may also be sent for blood tests and a chest x-ray to rule out any other underlying problems.