Can Emphysema be Caused by something other than Smoking? Why, Yes, it can….

Besides smoking, the other major known cause of emphysema is alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. However, this is a minor cause of emphysema, compared to smoking.

Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) is a natural protein circulating in our blood. Its main function is to keep white blood cells from damaging normal tissues. White blood cells contain destructive substances they use to fight infections.

Some people — perhaps 100,000 people in the U.S. — have a genetic condition that makes them deficient in alpha-1 antitrypsin. Deficient levels of the AAT protein in the blood allow normal white blood cells to continuously damage lung tissue. If people with AAT deficiency smoke, the damage is even worse.

Over years, most people with severe AAT deficiency develop emphysema. It’s not known how many people have emphysema caused by AAT deficiency. Experts estimate that about 2% to 3% of people with emphysema also have AAT deficiency.

Emphysema in AAT deficient patients has the same symptoms as emphysema caused by smoking. However, people with AAT deficiency often develop emphysema at a younger age. Liver problems may also occur in people with emphysema from AAT deficiency.

Secondhand Smoke and Other Potential Causes of Emphysema

Secondhand smoke may contribute to emphysema. Exposure to environmental cigarette smoke is known to damage the lungs. Several studies suggest that people exposed to high amounts of secondhand smoke are probably at higher risk for emphysema.

Air pollution is also believed to contribute to emphysema, although how much is unknown. Most people are exposed to pollution, and emphysema takes years to develop, making this effect hard to study.

More Information: http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/what-is-emphysema

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