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Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine

 
Fact sheet
What is chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
How common is chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
Who is at risk of getting chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
How can you lower your risk of chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
Who should be screened for chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
Who are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
Where can I find more information?




What is chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are different types of a condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a lung disease in which the lungs are damaged, making it hard to breathe.

In chronic bronchitis, the airways of the lung have become inflamed and thickened, and there is an increase in the number and size of mucus-producing cells, which can make it hard to get air in and out of the lungs.

In emphysema, the walls between many of the air sacs in the lung are destroyed, leading to a few large air sacs instead of many tiny ones, which causes shortness of breath by making it harder to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.

How common is Chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
Chronic bronchitis and emphysema affect as many as 24 million American men and women.

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Who is at risk of getting chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are most common in people who smoke or who used to smoke. They are also more common as people age. Long term exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of the conditions, as can a rare genetic mutation called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.

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How can you lower your risk of chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
If you smoke, the most important thing you can do is to quit smoking. Not long after you stop, your risk of chronic bronchitis and emphysema begins to drop.

In addition to not smoking:
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid workplace exposure to substances like welding gases and mineral dust, which can hurt the lungs
Click here for a list of things that affect the risk of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

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Who should be screened for chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
If you have concerns about how well you're breathing or your doctor suspects that you might have chronic bronchitis or emphysema, your doctor may have you take a spirometry test. The test is easy and painless and shows how well your lungs work. All you do is breathe hard into a large hose connected to a machine called a spirometer. Spirometry can detect COPD long before you have significant symptoms.

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What are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis and emphysema?
The signs and symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) include:

  • Cough
  • Sputum (mucus) production
  • Shortness of breath, especially with exercise
  • Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe)
  • Chest tightness
However, not everyone with a cough and sputum production goes on to develop COPD, and not everyone with COPD has a cough.
Talk to a doctor if you have any of these signs or symptoms or have a question about your risk of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
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Where can I find more information?
Try these websites:
What is COPD?
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