Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

Emphysema Underlying Cause

In emphysema, the bronchioles and alveoli in the lungs become damaged, usually due to smoking. The bronchioles are small air passageways and the alveoli are tiny sacs where oxygen is transferred from the air into the bloodstream.

Other causes include:

Normally, the bronchioles and alveoli are open and elastic: they expand when air enters the lungs, and return to shape during air exits the lungs.

The damage causes the walls of the bronchioles and alveoli to:
  • Lose elasticity
  • Collapse
  • Swell
  • Produce mucus

The above changes lead to obstructed, or blocked, bronchioles and alveoli. Air does not enter or exit the lungs freely, and the lungs are unable to take in oxygen as effectively as undamaged lungs.

Continue to Emphysema Anatomy

Last Updated: Dec 10, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Emphysema References
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  2. Ebell MH. Systemic corticosteroids for acute exacerbations of COPD. Am Fam Physician. 2005 Aug 1;72(3):437-8. [16100857]
  3. Kerstjens H, Postma D, Ten Hacken N. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Clin Evid. 2004 Jun;(11):2003-30. [15652094]
  4. Weder MM, Donohue JF. Role of bronchodilators in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2005 Apr;26(2):221-34. [16088439]
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