Emphysema is a chronic lung condition. Two million Americans have emphysema, many over the age of 50. With emphysema, breathing becomes difficult, as the lungs slowly deteriorate. Emphysema can cause large holes in the lungs; cause the airways to become obstructed; and cause the lungs to lose their elasticity, which inhibits their ability to process oxygen.
In most of the world, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of emphysema. In the U.S., emphysema costs more than $2.5 billion in annual health care expenses and causes or contributes to 100,000 deaths each year.
Current medical treatments include smoking cessation for those who still smoke, exercise rehabilitation, oxygen therapy for those with low blood oxygen levels, supportive and preventive measures such as a flu shot, pneumonia vaccine, medications such as bronchodilators to help open airways and lung transplants.
Emphysema is one form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD (a slowly progressive disease of the airways that is characterized by a gradual loss of lung function). Chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive bronchitis, are other forms of COPD.