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•  Causes and treatments of emphysema

Emphysema is a lung condition whereby the walls of the alveoli lose their elasticity due to damage to the alveolar walls

  • The loss of elasticity results in the abnormal enlargement of the alveoli, leading to a lower total surface area for gas exchange
  • The degradation of the alveolar walls can cause holes to develop and alveoli to merge into huge air spaces (pulmonary bullae)


The major cause of emphysema is smoking, as the chemical irritants in cigarette smoke damage the alveolar walls

  • The damage to lung tissue leads to the recruitment of phagocytes to the region, which produce an enzyme called elastase
  • This elastase, released as part of an inflammatory response, breaks down the elastic fibres in the alveolar wall
  • A small proportion of emphysema cases are due to a hereditary deficiency in this enzyme inhibitor due to a gene mutation


There is no current cure for emphysema, but treaments are available to relieve symptoms and delay disease progression

  • Bronchodilators are commonly used to relax the bronchiolar muscles and improve airflow
  • Corticosteroids can reduce the inflammatory response that breaks down the elastic fibres in the alveolar wall
  • Elastase activity can be blocked by an enzyme inhibitor (α-1-antitrypsin), provided elastase concentrations are not too high
  • Oxygen supplementation will be required in the later stages of the disease to ensure adequate oxygen intake
  • In certain cases, surgery and alternative medicines have helped to decrease the severity of symptoms

Consequences of Emphysema