Emphysema – (also called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD) – A progressive (or increasing) condition of the lungs that causes shortness of breath and decreased capacity for physical activity. It is caused by damage to the small air sacs and small airways in the lungs. As a result of increased air spaces around the ends of the breathing tubes and the resulting damage, the air spaces block, or obstruct, the walls of the breathing tubes, and it is difficult to exhale, or breath air out. Since there is no cure for emphysema, prevention is very important.
The most common cause of emphysema/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is cigarette smoking. Therefore, the best ways to prevent emphysema is never to smoke, and to keep away from secondhand smoke (also called passive smoking) as much as possible.
When emphysema is advanced, people have to work so hard to expel air from their lungs that just the simple act of breathing requires a lot of energy. Once it develops, emphysema is irreversible. Therefore, treatment focuses on decreasing symptoms and avoiding complications.
Information on Acute Bronchitis is provided in this glossary, and our section on Lung Diseases provides information on other lung diseases.