Emphysema is a long-term (chronic) lung disease. In emphysema, the
tiny air sacs (alveoli) at the end of the airways in the lungs are damaged.
When the air sacs are damaged or destroyed, their walls break down and the sacs
become larger. These larger air sacs move less oxygen into the blood. This
causes difficulty breathing or shortness of breath that gets worse over time.
After air sacs are destroyed, they cannot be replaced.
Emphysema is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
It is usually caused by smoking. A rare type of emphysema is caused by the lack
of a substance in the lungs called alpha1-antitrypsin. This type of emphysema
is usually inherited.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerKen Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology