Emphysema is a chronic (long-term) lung disease, usually caused by smoking. Emphysema is the main form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Diagnosing emphysema usually requires pulmonary function tests, combined with a history of symptoms, such as shortness of breath. There is no emphysema cure other than lung transplantation. However, emphysema treatments can improve symptoms and preserve lung function.
An AAT deficiency test measures the level of AAT in the blood. The test is not routinely done in most people with COPD. But the American Thoracic Society and the European Respiratory Society recommend testing for an AAT deficiency for people who have:1
Symptoms of COPD and have been diagnosed with emphysema or COPD.
Asthma with airflow blockage that is not completely resolved after treatment with medicine that opens the lung airways (bronchodilators).
No symptoms, but lung tests show obstruction, and risk factors such as smoking are present.
A brother or sister who is AAT-deficient.
Screening for an AAT deficiency in the general public is not currently recommended.1
It is extremely important that you do not smoke if you have an AAT deficiency. Smokers with this condition may suffer devastating disease at a young age. People with this condition who have never smoked usually do not have significant symptoms at any age.
Treatment for COPD may include medicines to help you breathe easier. It may also include pulmonary rehabilitation. This means learning exercise, eating, and breathing tips and other ways to help yourself stay as healthy and strong as you can. And your doctor may suggest that you have injections of man-made alpha-1 antitrypsin protein (also called an alpha-1 proteinase inhibitor) that has been obtained from human plasma. Examples include Aralast, Prolastin, and Zemaira. To be considered for this treatment, you must meet the following guidelines:
Your blood levels of the alpha-1 antitrypsin enzyme are less than 11 µmol/L (micromoles per liter).
DNA testing shows that your body does not produce enough of the enzyme or produces an enzyme that does not work properly.