What is Emphysema?

Emphysema is one of a group of diseases known as COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Emphysema occurs when airways in your lungs are damaged and become floppy – causing air to be trapped in the small air sacs called alveoli. As a result of this trapped air, the air sacs become enlarged and stretched out. When this happens, used air can’t be exhaled completely. This limits the amount of fresh air that you can breathe in making it hard for your lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. This results in problems with shortness of breath. Over time, air trapping can also cause your lungs to take up too much room in your chest and to push down on your diaphragm and decrease its effectiveness.

The most common cause of emphysema is cigarette smoking. Other possible causes are long term exposure to industrial and environmental pollutants and a hereditary form of emphysema called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

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