What Factors Affect Emphysema Prognosis?

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  • Written By: Ashley Farris
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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Emphysema is a progressive disease that results in the breakdown of lung tissue. The prognosis for this disease can be a positive one, but emphysema generally reduces the sufferer's lifespan. The largest factor in emphysema prognosis is whether the patient continues to smoke cigarettes or be exposed to tobacco smoke. Diet, treatment and lifestyle choices also have an effect on long-term well-being. Lung damage is irreversible, but a patient can improve his or her prognosis by controlling contributing factors and making healthy life choices.

Cigarette smoking plays a prominent role in the occurrence of emphysema. In fact, the chance of a smoker dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is 20 times greater than that of a non-smoker. In order to drastically improve an emphysema prognosis, it is important for the sufferer to quit smoking immediately upon diagnosis.

Toxins from cigarette smoke become trapped inside the lungs and gradually cause deterioration that can’t be reversed. This damage can, however, be stalled by immediate cessation of smoking. On the other hand, emphysema prognosis for those who continue to smoke is bleak, and their lifespan can be reduced by 10 years or more. A doctor might prescribe medications, nicotine gum, lozenges, patches or other aids to increase the likelihood of success in quitting smoking.


The presence of a natural inhibitor called alpha-1 antitrypsin also can determine an emphysema prognosis. This enzyme plays a crucial role in protecting the alveoli walls from destruction. Very few cases of emphysema are attributed to a hereditary deficiency of alpha-1, but it can have a profound effect on the progression of the illness.

An alpha-1 deficiency is likely to develop emphysema in a non-smoker and has a negative impact on the prognosis of smokers with emphysema. Without the substance, tissue destruction can occur much more quickly and can negatively influence emphysema prognosis. Injections of alpha-1, administered on a weekly or monthly basis, can be used to treat this deficiency.

Emphysema treatment methods also have an impact on prognosis. Breathing exercises can improve lung capacity and function, though they will not reverse lung damage. In cases of mild emphysema, a healthy diet and exercise can improve quality of life. In more advanced cases, a patient will need oxygen therapy and medication for an improved emphysema prognosis.

Other external factors that affect emphysema prognosis are age, immune system health and the presence of unrelated infections or illnesses. A patient should strive to amend any unhealthy practices and live an increasingly healthy life. In cases of mild emphysema, it is realistic to expect improvement of health and quality of life, even though lung destruction can’t be reversed. Mindfulness of all factors affecting emphysema prognosis will result in a more positive outcome for emphysema patients.


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