Your Lungs

Common Lung Diseases


Asthma is a disease of the airways in the lungs. When you have an asthma episode (once known as an asthma "attack"), the sides of the airways in the lungs become thick and swollen with sticky mucus, making breathing difficult.


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If an asthma episode is serious enough, you could die if not treated in time. You cannot catch asthma from other people like a cold or flu, but you can develop it at any age. Asthma is the sixth-ranking chronic condition in the nation and the leading such illness of children. Asthma is on the rise throughout the country affecting an estimated 17 million Americans.

COPD includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis--diseases that are characterized by airflow obstruction. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis frequently coexist.

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation and eventual scarring of the bronchial tube lining; bronchi connect the windpipe with the lungs. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include chronic cough, increased mucus, frequent clearing of the throat and shortness of breath.

Nearly 16 million Americans suffer from COPD, the fourth-ranking cause of death (behind heart attacks, cancers and stroke). Smoking causes approximately 80 to 90 percent of COPD cases.

Emphysema is a lung disease effecting the flexibility of the lung. The walls between the tiniest air sacs within the lungs break down, and those compartments become unnaturally enlarged. The lung tissue becomes hard and unable to expand and contract when you breathe.

As emphysema progresses, the effort needed to breathe increases and, ultimately, each breath becomes a chore. Meanwhile, the patient grows progressively weaker - at first experiencing only minimal shortness of breath, soon unable to attempt even minor physical activity. An estimated 2 million Americans have emphysema. While more men have emphysema, the rate for women has been steadily rising. Most cases of emphysema are caused by smoking.

Influenza is a viral infection commonly known as "the flu." Symptoms typically include fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and muscle aches. The flu weakens your immune system and leaves you susceptible to other lung diseases such as pneumonia or bronchitis if not properly treated. Both young and old people should consider getting the flu vaccine.

According to the Center for Disease Control, in 1995 an estimated 108 million cases of the flu occurred, and were responsible for 192 million days spent in bed.

Cancer is a disease marked by the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that crowd out healthy cells and destroy healthy tissue. Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death among men and ranks second among women. 1998 statistics point out 28% of all cancer deaths were from lung cancer. The number one cause of lung cancer is cigarette smoking, responsible for 87% of cases. Since 1987, more women have died of lung cancer than of breast cancer.

Pneumonia is a serious infection or inflammation of the lungs. The air sacs in the lungs fill with pus and other liquid. Oxygen has trouble reaching the blood. If there is too little oxygen in the blood, the body's cells can't work properly. Because of this and spreading infection through the body, pneumonia can cause death if not properly treated.

Pneumonia is the sixth-leading cause of death in the nation, and afflicts over 5 million people a year.

TB is short for the lung disease: tuberculosis. Long known as "consumption," signs of TB are chronic fatigue, persistent coughing or coughing up of blood, night sweats and fever. Like a cold, the disease is spread through the air when infected people sneeze or cough. If not fully treated with medicine, TB can be fatal.

Despite an upsurge in reported cases during the late 1980's, TB infections in the US have again declined to just over 20,000 cases nationwide. The TB case rate for foreign-born persons however has consistently remained at least four to five times higher than that of U.S.- born persons. According to the World Health Organization tuberculosis kills more people than any other infectious disease in the world today. It is estimated that between now and 2020, nearly one billion more people will be newly infected, 200 million people will get sick, and 70 million will die from TB, if worldwide TB control is not strengthened.

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