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Emphysema is a condition in which there is over-inflation of structures in the lungs known as alveoli or air sacs This over-inflation results from a breakdown of the walls of the alveoli which causes a decrease in respiratory function the way the lungs work and often breathlessness Early symptoms of emphysema include shortness of breath and cough Emphysema and chronic bronchitis together comprise chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD Emphysema is a widespread disease of the lungs Currently there are about 2 million Americans in the US who have emphysema Emphysema ranks 15th among chronic conditions that contribute to activity limitations almost 44 percent of individuals with emphysema report that the disease has limited their daily activities Many of the people with emphysema are older men but the condition is increasing among women Males with emphysema out number females by more than 54 percent It is known from scientific research that the normal lung has a remarkable balance between two classes of chemicals with opposing action The elastic fibers in the lung allow the lungs to expand and contract When the chemical balance is altered the lungs lose the ability to protect themselves against the destruction of these elastic fibers This is what happens in emphysema There are a number of reasons this chemical imbalance occurs Smoking is responsible for 82 percent of COPD chronic obstructive pulmonary disease including emphysema It is estimated that 50000 to 100000 Americans living today were born with a deficiency of a protein known as alpha 1-antitrypsin AAT which can lead to an inherited form of emphysema called alpha 1-antitrypsin AAT deficiency-related emphysema Emphysema begins with the destruction of air sacs alveoli in the lungs where oxygen from the air is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the blood The walls of the air sacs are thin and fragile Damage to the air sacs is irreversible and results in permanent holes in the tissues of the lower
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