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Signs of Asthma     Asthma Treatment     Lung Diseases     Breathing

Severe Lung Disease

About Chronic Lung Disease & Severe Lung Disease
Its Symptoms, Treatment & Breathing Improvement

Function of Healthy Lungs

- Lungs are the organs that breathe. Lungs provide a huge area (as large as a football field) for oxygen from the air to pass into the bloodstream and carbon dioxide to move out. The cells of our bodies need oxygen in order to work and grow. Our cells also need to get rid of carbon dioxide.


During a normal day, we breathe nearly 25,000 times, and inhale large amounts of air. The air we take in contains mostly oxygen and nitrogen. But air also has things in it that can hurt our lungs. Bacteria, viruses, tobacco smoke, car exhaust, and other pollutants can be in the air. People with lung disease have difficulty breathing. These breathing problems may prevent the body from getting enough oxygen.

Is Lung Disease a Common Health Problem?

Yes. More than 35 million Americans have an ongoing/or chronic lung disease like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If all types of lung disease are lumped together it is the number three killer in the United States. It causes 1 in 7 deaths in this country each year.

The term lung disease refers to many disorders affecting the lungs such as:

  • Ongoing obstructive lung diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema
  • Infections like influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis (TB)
  • Lung cancer
  • Pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis

How can I Decrease my Chances of Lung Disease?

Things you can do to reduce your risk of all lung diseases include:

  • Stop smoking. If you are a smoker, the single most important thing you can do to stay healthy is stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about the best way to quit. Smoke from all tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars, and pipes boosts the chances of lung disease.
  • Avoid second hand smoke. The best thing you can do to avoid lung disease is to stay away from smoke. If you live or work with people who smoke, ask them to smoke outside. Non-smokers have the right to a smoke-free work place. Keep in mind that cigar and pipe smoke is just as harmful as cigarette smoke.
  • Test for radon. Find out if there are high levels of radon gas in your home or workplace. People who work in mines are often exposed to radon. And in some parts of the United States, radon is found in houses. Kits you can buy at most hardware stores can measure the amount of radon gas in your home.
  • Steer clear of asbestos. Some jobs expose workers to asbestos. If you work in construction, shipbuilding, asbestos mining or manufacturing, car repair (brake repair), and insulation you should always wear protective clothing including a face mask. Federal law protects people who work with asbestos. Employers who work with asbestos must train their workers about asbestos safety, provide protective gear, and monitor the levels of radon to which workers are exposed.
  • Protect yourself from dust and chemical fumes. Working with some chemicals like vinyl chloride and nickel chromates increases the risk of lung cancer. If you spend a lot of time working around dust and chemical fumes, protect yourself. Wear protective clothing including a gas mask and ventilate work areas.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Limited research shows that people who eat diets rich in fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends eating 5 to 6 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Ask your doctor about spirometry testing. This test checks how well you can breathe. Some groups recommend routine spirometry testing in at-risk groups. If you're a smoker over the age of 45, are exposed to lung-damaging substances at work, or have other risk factors you should consider spirometry.
  • See your doctor right away if you have a cough that won't go away, trouble breathing, pain or discomfort in your chest, or any of the other symptoms described in this FAQ.

What causes Lung Disease?

There are many known causes of lung disease. Still, the causes of many lung diseases are still not known. Some known causes of lung disease include:

  • Smoking. Smoke from cigarettes, cigars and pipes is the number one cause of lung disease. So the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of lung disease is to stop smoking. If you live or work with a smoker, it is also very important to steer clear of second hand smoke. Ask the person to smoke outdoors.
  • Radon gas. Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is naturally present in soil and rocks. You can check your home for radon with a kit bought at many hardware stores.
  • Asbestos. Asbestos is natural fiber that comes from minerals. The fibers break apart easily into tiny pieces that can float in the air and stick to things. If a person inhales asbestos particles, they can stick to their lungs. Asbestos harms lungs cells which may lead to lung cancer.
  • Air Pollution. Recent studies suggest that some air pollutants like car exhaust may contribute to asthma, lung cancer, and other lung disease. But doctors still do not fully understand the link between pollution and lung disease.

Should Women be Worried about Lung Disease?

Yes. The number of women diagnosed with lung disease in the United States is on the rise. The percentage of women dying from lung disease in this country is also increasing.

Here are some other reasons why lung disease is an important health concern for women:

  • Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of women in the United States. It kills more women than breast, ovarian, and cervical cancer combined.
  • Deaths from lung cancer among women have risen 150 percent in the last 20 years while deaths among men are decreasing.
  • Studies show that women are 1.5 times more likely to develop lung cancer than men.
  • About 64,000 women in the United States die every year from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Sixty-five percent of people who die from asthma are women.
  • More than twice as many women are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis than men every year.

What Types of Lung Disease are most Common in Women?

Three of the most common lung diseases in women are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer. Other important but less widespread lung problems that affect women include:

  • Pulmonary emboli and pulmonary hypertension -- These conditions affect the blood flow and gas exchange in the lungs.
  • Sarcoidosis and pulmonary fibrosis - People with these diseases have stiffening and scarring in the lungs.
  • Influenza, also known as the flu - This viral infection can affect the membrane that surrounds the lungs.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a term that describes related diseases: chronic obstructive bronchitis and emphysema. These conditions often occur together. Both diseases limit airflow out of the lungs and make breathing difficult. COPD gets worse with time.

In almost 90% of cases, smoking is the cause of COPD. The single most important thing a person can do to reduce their risk of lung disease is to stop smoking.

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. In 2003, more than 7.2 million women had COPD in this country. And more women have died from COPD than men every year since 2000.

In COPD, there is inflammation of the tubes (bronchial tubes) that carry air in and out of the lungs. This ongoing irritation thickens and scars the lining of the bronchial tubes. The irritation also causes the growth of cells that make mucus.

If the airways become thickened enough to restrict air flow to and from the lungs, the condition is called chronic obstructive bronchitis. The excess mucus leads to a constant cough typical of this illness.

But early signs of COPD are often hard to detect. People often decrease their activity level without even realizing it. And some people just assume age or weight gain is the cause of their lack of energy.

In emphysema, the walls between the air sacs-known as alveoli are destroyed and the lung tissue is weakened. Normally oxygen from the air goes into the blood through these air sacs. But as the air sacs become damaged, the lung has less surface area. This interferes with the movement of oxygen from the air into the blood. So less oxygen passes into the blood of people with emphysema. Emphysema causes shortness of breath, cough and wheezing, which has a squeaky sound when breathing.

Still, the early signs of emphysema are often very hard to detect. Since 2004, the rate of emphysema in American women has increased by 5%. In contrast, the rate in men has decreased by 10%. In 2003, approximately 1.4 million women had emphysema.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a disease in which abnormal or malignant lung cells divide without control. These cancerous cells can invade nearby tissues and/or spread to other parts of the body. There are two major kinds of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common kind.

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of American women. Lung cancer will kill more than 68,000 women this year. And more and more women are being diagnosed with this disease in the United States. Smoking causes 87% of all cases of lung cancer.

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Warnings Signs of Lung Disease

Early signs of lung disease can be easy to overlook. Often people with early lung disease just say they don't have much energy.

Some common signs of lung disease include:

  • trouble breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling like you're not getting enough air
  • a decreased ability to exercise
  • a cough that won't go away
  • coughing up blood or mucus
  • pain or discomfort when breathing in or out

If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. She will be able to pinpoint what is wrong with you.

Recommended Health Resources of Interest

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Severe Lung Disease