Emphysema is a chronic lung condition that is a major cause of death and disability in the United States. Two million Americans are affected, largely those who are over age 50. With emphysema, breathing becomes difficult as the fine architecture of the lung is destroyed, leading to large holes in the lung, obstruction of the airways, trapping of air, and difficulty exchanging oxygen because of reduced elasticity of the lungs.In the United States, cigarette smoking is by far the most important risk factor for emphysema. Emphysema costs more than $2.5 billion in annual health care expenses and causes or contributes to 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.
Current medical treatments include smoking cessation for those who still smoke, exercise rehabilitation, oxygen therapy for those with low blood oxygen levels, supportive and preventive measures such as flu shots, pneumonia vaccine, medications such as bronchodilators to help open airways, prompt treatment of respiratory infections, and lung transplantation.Emphysema is one form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) -- a slowly progressive disease of the airways that is characterized by a gradual loss of lung function. Chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive bronchitis, or a combination of these conditions with emphysema also are forms of COPD. COPD is the fourth most common and the most rapidly increasing cause of death in the United States.
SOURCE: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute