Panlobular emphysema (PLE) is a condition that affects the lungs. Emphysema is the medical term for damage to the air sacs within the lungs. It is one of two conditions that come under the umbrella of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the other being chronic bronchitis.
PLE may cause respiratory symptoms such as breathing difficulties, coughing, and wheezing. Although there is currently no cure for PLE, treatments are available to help slow the progression of the condition and alleviate the symptoms.
This article describes what PLE is, including its symptoms, causes, treatment, and outlook. It also outlines the relationship between PLE and COPD and discusses how PLE differs from another type of emphysema called centrilobular emphysema (CE).
PLE is a type of emphysema. Emphysema is a condition that involves damage to the tiny air sacs, or alveoli, within the lungs. These air sacs are responsible for exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide.
In emphysema, the walls of the alveoli become damaged and rupture, leading to enlarged air spaces that are less efficient at exchanging gases. This can result in respiratory symptoms.
PLE can affect the entire secondary pulmonary lobule, which is a cluster of air sacs. The lower sections, or lobes, of the lungs may be more severely affected.
Unlike some other forms of emphysema, PLE is not confined to a particular section of the lung. Rather, PLE affects alveoli throughout the entire lung.
The outlook for people with PLE will vary according to various factors, including:
- the person’s overall health
- how the condition responds to medication
- whether or not the person experiences complications as a result of PLE
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Some possible causes of PLE include:
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AAT): This is a rare inherited disorder that may cause lung disease. Since exposure to toxic gases may worsen AAT deficiency, the link between AAT deficiency and PLE may not be a causal one.
- Aging: Normal, age-related changes to the lungs may result in PLE.
- Ritalin lung: This is the medical term for lung changes associated with injecting talc-containing methylphenidate, such as Ritalin.
- Obliterative bronchiolitis: This is a condition in which the smallest airways of the lungs become obstructed due to inflammation.
- Swyer-James syndrome: This is a lung condition in which a lung or part of a lung does not grow correctly following obliterative bronchiolitis.
Links with COPD
Whereas emphysema involves the destruction of the alveoli within the lungs, chronic bronchitis involves inflammation of the airways.
According to the American Lung Association, the signs and symptoms of emphysema can take years to develop. However, once they begin to occur, they may include the following:
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Some common treatment options for emphysema include:
- bronchodilators, which are medications that widen the airways to ease breathing
- anti-inflammatory drugs, which can help reduce airway inflammation
- supplemental oxygen, which helps ensure that a person with breathing difficulties has enough oxygen in their blood
- lung volume reduction surgery, which involves removing a diseased portion of lung tissue to reduce pressure in the lung
- mental health interventions, which can help manage depression and anxiety
Whereas PLE affects the entire secondary pulmonary lobule, and particularly the lower lobes, CE typically affects the upper lobes.
PLE can have various causes, whereas CE is most commonly associated with smoking.
PLE is a type of emphysema. In emphysema, the alveoli within the lungs become damaged and rupture, creating large air pockets that are less efficient at exchanging gases during respiration. Because of this, emphysema is associated with respiratory symptoms such as breathing difficulties, coughing, and wheezing.
Unlike other forms of emphysema, PLE affects the entire lung. However, the lower lobes may show the worst signs of disease.
There are many potential causes of PLE, including aging and AAT deficiency.
Although there is currently no cure for PLE, treatment can help slow disease progression and improve quality of life.
Treatments may involve bronchodilators to facilitate breathing, anti-inflammatories to reduce airway inflammation, and opioid medications for pain management. In rare cases, a doctor may recommend lung volume reduction surgery to remove the diseased section of lung that is causing problems.