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Emphysema {em"fi-se'mah} A pathologic accumulation of air in tissues or organs.
Dorland Medical Dictionary.

Emphysema is a degenerative disease that usually develops after many years of assault on lung tissues from cigarette smoke or other toxins that pollute the air. These toxins destroy the small air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. They stretch as they transport oxygen from the air to the blood and then shrink as they force out carbon dioxide. As a result, the lungs lose elasticity, and exhaling becomes difficult as the damaged lungs trap air and cannot effectively exchange it with fresh air. As the damage progresses, the effort needed to breathe increases and ultimately each breath becomes labored.

Some of the signs and symptons of emphysema may be shortness of breath. You may feel as though you can't catch your breath especially during a physical activity. In the advanced stages this symptom would probably be present all the time. Coughing, wheezing and chronic mucus production are also very common signs. Eventually the person may become home bound. There is a variety of treatments available but the most important thing is to stop smoking. Some of the treatments available are, bronchodilator medicines, oxygen therapy, lung reduction surgery, and transplant surgery.

The ALA (American Lung Association) estimated that in 1998 two million Americans had Emphysema, cigarette smoking being the primary cause.