Emphysema destroys your lungs. A pair of human lungs contains about 700 million air sacs, called alveoli, that facilitate breathing and transfer oxygen to your bloodstream. Each of these air sacs create their own individual chambers, but emphysema causes the walls of the alveoli to burst, turning those small chambers into much larger connected chambers.

When the alveoli rupture, breathing becomes much more difficult. Old, unusable air remains trapped in the lungs, leaving less room for fresh air. This causes shortness of breath, and limits the amount of oxygen your body is able to take in.

Shortness of breath is the most notable symptom of emphysema. This typically sets in gradually but can worsen to the point where you have trouble breathing, even when you’re resting.

While there are genetic causes of emphysema, they are relatively uncommon. Smoking is by far the leading cause of emphysema. Emphysema is just one of the diseases included in the group known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Smoking is the cause of 80% of COPD deaths.

It’s important to realize that emphysema is incurable. While the symptoms can be controlled, there is no way to remedy the disease once it manifests. Your alveoli have been destroyed, and while some parts of the human body are regenerative, the alveoli are not.

Since smoking is the primary cause of emphysema, preventing the disease is pretty simple. Don’t smoke. By cutting out smoking, you significantly decrease your chances of getting emphysema. Since the damage is irreversible, the sooner you stop, the better.

Emphysema can severely limit what you are able to do. Take a look at your bucket list. You won’t be scratching off “run a marathon” or “climb a mountain” if you have emphysema. You will find it difficult to climb a flight of stairs let alone a mountain.

Since emphysema is preventable for most people, you should do what you can to prevent it. Exercise regularly and don’t smoke. However if you already have emphysema, you should contact your health provider or a Pulmonary Medicine specialist to see what you can do to manage your symptoms.

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