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Emphysema in the Nonsmoker

Fabro, Delano S. Jr DO*†; Frenia, Douglas S. MD*

Clinical Pulmonary Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/CPM.0b013e31816085a6
Obstructive Airways Disease

Approximately 10% of emphysema patients have rarely or never smoked tobacco. Emphysema in the nonsmoking population has been recognized in a variety of processes. These include α-1-antitrypsin deficiency, nutritional deficiency, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, illicit drug use (both intravenous and inhaled), occupational and environmental exposures such as coal dust, silica and cadmium and connective tissue disorders, including Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. In this review, we discuss these causes of emphysematous changes in the lungs through an evaluation of the existing literature. We focus specifically on the evidence behind proposed causal links and the hypothesized pathogenesis of emphysema in each category. Implicated mechanisms for the development of emphysema in these patients include alterations in lung tissue development and repair, oxidant stress, aberrant release of white blood cell mediators, and endotoxin induced damage.

In Brief

This article presents a review of emphysema in the nonsmoker. Emphysema due to nutritional deficiency, HIV, occupational and environmental exposures and connective tissue diseases is discussed.

Author Information

From the *Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland Air Force Base, TX; †Department of Sleep Medicine, Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland Air Force Base, TX.

The opinions and assertions contained herein are the private views of the authors and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense.

Address correspondence to: Delano Fabro, MD, Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Wilford Hall Medical Center, 2200 Bergquist Dr., Ste. 1, Lackland AFB, TX 78236. E-mail:

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.