Emphysema and Alpha-1
Emphysema is a lung disease in which the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs are overinflated. They overinflate because the walls of your air sacs are damaged. Since your air sacs take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, this over-inflation makes your lungs less efficient and often results in breathlessness.
Neutrophil elastase and AAT
One cause of damage to your air sacs is the enzyme neutrophil elastase. Normally, neutrophil elastase eliminates bacteria that cause lung infections. Once the infection is resolved, your body uses AAT to stop neutrophil elastase.
If there's not enough AAT, neutrophil elastase keeps working and can destroy healthy lung tissue. Over time, enough air sacs can be destroyed to make your lungs rigid, resulting in emphysema. If you have Alpha-1, you have less AAT and are more likely to develop emphysema.
Is it emphysema due to Alpha-1?
Alpha-1 is often not diagnosed in patients with emphysema because the symptoms are similar. Emphysema is more likely to be related to alpha-1 if there is:1
- Early-onset emphysema (age 45 years or younger)
- Emphysema without a known risk factor (smoking, occupational dust exposure, etc.)
- Lung function decline more than expected for a nonsmoker or for a smoker who quit
- X-rays or images of your lungs that show damage in the lower parts of your lungs, which is unusual with emphysema
Testing for Alpha-1
The average Alpha patient experiences symptoms for more than 8 years and sees 3 doctors before being correctly diagnosed with Alpha-1.2 This delay is too long, especially considering the destruction of lung tissue prior to diagnosis. Alpha-1 is easily diagnosed with simple blood tests.
Ask your doctor about a free Grifols AlphaKit that can tell if you have Alpha-1.