Emphysema is a progressive lung disease in which tiny air sacs and ducts of the lungs, known as alveoli, start to break down and become enlarged. As this occurs, so does the gradual destruction of the alveoli walls and a loss of blood vessels that supply the alveoli with oxygen and vital nutrients. This results in a reduction in the size of the lung area where gases are exchanged, an essential step in the breathing process. This causes a reduction of the available oxygen supply for the rest of the body’s cells, tissues, and organs, as well as an influx of excessive carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. In addition, the lung tissue itself becomes hardened and inflamed.

Caution: Emphysema is a serious respiratory disorder and requires medical attention. Left untreated, it can prove fatal and also contribute to lung cancer.

The symptoms of emphysema include breathlessness, especially during times of exertion (including the simple act of speaking), wheezing, spasmodic coughing attacks, a frequent need to expel sputum, and, in some cases, cyanosis, a condition characterized by a blue tinge to the skin. Many people with emphysema develop a barrel-shaped chest as a result of the hardening occurring within the lungs. Without proper treatment, patients can die due to respiratory failure.

The primary causes of emphysema are cigarette smoking and environmental toxins.

Cigarette Smoking: Cigarette smoking, including regular exposure to secondhand smoke, can dramatically increase the risk of emphysema, as well as many other health conditions, including heart disease and cancer. Moreover, the risk of developing emphysema as a result of smoking is directly correlated to the amount of cigarettes a person smokes per day, as well as the number of years he or she has been a smoker. What follows are some of the most serious health consequences caused by cigarette smoke:

According to researchers, each time you smoke a cigarette, you shorten your life by approximately eight minutes. Lifetime smokers can expect to shorten their lives by as much as 12 to 16 years.

Smoking just one cigarette can increase your heart rate by as much as 25 beats per minute, significantly increasing the risk of high blood pressure.

Smoking significantly depletes your body’s vitamin C supply. Vitamin C, which cannot be manufactured by the body and, therefore, must be consumed each day via diet and supplementation. Vitamin C is essential for the body’s overall functioning. Lack of vitamin C can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease and cancer, as well as other respiratory conditions, such as asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia.

It takes the body’s circulatory system approximately six hours to return to normal after a cigarette is smoked because of how cigarettes dramatically raise carbon monoxide levels in the bloodstream, diminishing overall oxygen levels.

Each time a cigarette is smoked the body’s immune system is seriously suppressed and requires up to three months to repair itself after smoking is stopped, and many more years of repair before all of the direct and indirect effects of smoking can be counteracted by the body.

At least 4,000 toxic substances are contained in cigarettes.

All of the above health hazards have also been found to affect nonsmokers who are regularly exposed to cigarette smoke.

Environmental Toxins: Environmental toxins represent the other major cause of emphysema. Asbestos and cadmium (which are contained in cigarettes and cigarette smoke) in particular, are associated with a greater risk of developing emphysema.

Other causes of emphysema include genetic or hereditary factors, gastric ulcers, and pre-existing respiratory disease such as asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Poor diet, food allergies and sensitivities, and nutritional deficiencies can increase the risk of emphysema, as well as exacerbate its symptoms.