Emphysema is a chronic and progressive lung disease that causes difficulty breathing. The condition is also referred to as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and is most commonly found in adults experiencing damaged lung tissues. Emphysema affects more men than women and involves mostly the lungs to start, though effects of the disease can appear in other parts and organs of the body as well due to lack of adequate oxygenation, eventually leading to diabetes or heart failure.
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End-stage emphysema is defined as being the point where a person diagnosed with emphysema has increased difficulty breathing, requires constant oxygen supplementation and has difficulty performing daily living tasks. This stage causes patients severe difficulty breathing, even at rest, and drastic limitations to any type of exercise. In many cases, the heart and other vital organs are affected by inadequate oxygen intake and start to labour to perform daily living functions as well.
Emphysema is caused by an inability of the lung to function properly. Air sacs that fill the lungs are damaged or destroyed from a multitude of factors that range from smoking to environmental or work-related exposure to chemicals or dusts. However, emphysema may also be caused by inadequate amount of protein as well as connective tissue disorders or HIV.
Common symptoms for end-stage emphysema are severe wheezing and shortness of breath, even with the smallest movements and even at rest. People diagnosed with emphysema complain of feelings of tightness in the chest, which can be exacerbated in end-stage emphysema. Coughing becomes a chronic and painful effort and most experience appetite and weight loss. Fatigue is another very common symptom. Low oxygen may also cause the fingernails to turn a bluish colour, as well as the lips, which is a sign that tissues are severely oxygen deprived and the individuals should seek immediate medical attention. Individuals with end stage emphysema may notice that the sputum produced by chronic coughs changes from a clear or whitish colour to yellow or green.
Physicians can diagnose emphysema and end-stage emphysema by taking a complete and thorough physical history and utilising chest X-rays and lung function tests. An over-inflation of the lungs is readily visible in moderate to severe cases of emphysema as can thinning of blood vessels. Lung function tests such as forced expiratory spirometry are given to evaluate lung volume and flow rates. Blood tests may also be performed to determine the presence of unusually high red blood cells due to faulty oxygen exchange. Lastly, a physician might use pulse oximetry (a device that is attached to the finger) to determine oxygen saturation levels.
Treatment of symptoms usually involves inhalation bronchodilators or nebuliser treatments. Some people are given corticosteroids for severe or end-stage emphysema. Others are put on long-term oxygen therapy for at least 12 hours a day. Over-the-counter cough suppressants are of little help in the treatment of end-stage emphysema and are not recommended
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