Lung Disease: NWHIC


Article title: Lung Disease: NWHIC
Conditions: Lung Disease, lung
Source: NWHIC


Why are the lungs important?
What are the most common diseases affecting the lungs?
What are the symptoms of lung disease?
How can I reduce my risk of lung disease?

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Why are the lungs important?

Our lungs are essential for breathing and for getting oxygen into the bloodstream and the cells of our body. During a normal day, we breathe nearly 25,000 times, and inhale more than 10,000 liters of air. The air we inhale is mostly oxygen and nitrogen, but it also includes floating bacteria, viruses, tobacco smoke, car exhaust, and other air pollutants. Lung disease is not only a killer; most lung disease is chronic and debilitating. More than 30 million Americans are now living with chronic lung disease.

What are the most common diseases affecting the lungs?

The most common lung diseases include:

  • Diseases of the airways. These diseases include asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, bronchiolitis, cystic fibrosis, and bronchiectasis. They are characterized by structural changes in the airways that limit or obstruct the flow of air in or out of the lungs.

  • Diseases of the interstitium (space between the tissues of the lungs). These diseases cause the lungs to stiffen and scar. They can be caused by drugs, poisons, infections, or radiation.

  • Disorders of the gas exchange or blood circulation in the lungs. These diseases include pulmonary edema, pulmonary embolism, respiratory failure, and pulmonary hypertension.

  • Disorders due to unusual atmospheric pressure. Atmospheric pressures include high altitudes where the air has less oxygen, or deep water where there is more atmospheric pressure and higher nitrogen levels in the blood.

  • Disorders of the pleura (the membrane that surrounds the lungs). This condition occurs when air or fluid accumulates in the pleural space. Infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis are caused by bacteria or viruses, and they are the most common types of lung illness.

  • Cancer of the lungs. This disease is caused primarily by smoking. The rates of lung cancer continue to increase in women, and it is the leading cancer killer of American women.

What are the symptoms of lung disease?

Each disease has its own symptoms. However, common symptoms include difficulty breathing and shortness of breath, accompanied by the feeling of not getting enough air. In addition, patients often complain of a long-term cough that doesn't seem to go away, coughing up blood, and experiencing pain when inhaling or exhaling.

How can I reduce my risk of lung disease?

You can reduce your risk by:

  • Not smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products;

  • Avoiding exposure to dust and irritants that can harm your lungs. (If you must work near them, wear protective devices;)

  • Having a spirometry (a test to see how much and how quickly you expel air after a deep breath) done as often as recommended by your doctor.

  • Checking with your doctor if you are having trouble breathing, are experiencing pain in the lungs, or seem to be coughing up blood.

For more information . . .

You can find out more about lung disease by contacting the National Women's Health Information Center (800-994-9662) or the following organizations:

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Information Center
Phone: (301) 251 1222
Internet Address:

American Lung Association
Phone: (800) 586?4872
Internet Address:

Publication Date: June 2001

All material contained in the FAQs is free of copyright restrictions, and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services; citation of the sources is appreciated.

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Publication date: June 2001


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