What causes emphysema?

What causes emphysema?

Smoking is responsible for 80 to 90 percent of the cases of emphysema. It comes on very slowly, often after years of exposure to cigarette smoke. People with lung infections and people exposed to second-hand smoke or other air pollution can also develop emphysema. Irritating fumes and dusts on the job also are thought to be a contributing factor. However, a smoker is 10 times more likely than a nonsmoker to die of emphysema.

A few people (about 5 percent of all known cases) have emphysema because they did not inherit a protein that protects against the disease. This protein is called alpha-1-antitrypsin, or AAT. A person who lacks this protein is said to have “Alpha-1-Antitrypsin Deficiency.” A blood test can tell if a person lacks AAT. A person without AAT can avoid emphysema by having a liver transplant or AAT replacement therapy, a life-long process.

To learn more:

This Website actually is the gateway to three sites about emphysema caused by Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.
Occupational Respiratory Disease
(Family Doctor.org)
This site discusses what kinds of substances in the workplace can cause breathing problems such as emphysema. It is also available in Spanish.

next » What are the signs and symptoms of emphysema?

Written by: Lillian Trettin, Ph.D.
Reviewed by: Jeffrey G. Schultze, M.D.
Last Modified: Tuesday November 24, 2009 3:33 PM