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Medical science has never been able to find a cure or even a way of preventing emphysema. The way to stop emphysema in its tracks, however, may be as simple as taking an aspirin a day.
Taking an aspirin a day is believed to stop this process. It may even be found to be the most effective emphysema treatment. Researchers are not quite sure why.
One possibility, medical researchers at the Columbia Medical Center in New York City reported at the American Thoracic Society 2015 International Conference, is that aspirin just helps blood flow better through the lungs. After all, greatly to simplify the process, aspirin is a blood thinner. Thinner blood flows through the lungs more freely and can carry more oxygen into general circulation.
Another possibility, also proposed by the doctors at Columbia, is that aspirin is acting as platelet-activating factor (PAF) inhibitor. Platelet activating factor is an important chemical in producing blood clots, but it is also an important chemical in stopping inflammatory and allergic reactions. Functioning as a PAF-inhibitor, aspirin stops the allergic inflammation that breaks down lung tissue and brings macrophages into the lungs.
Yet another possibility is that aspirin is interrupting inflammation at another step. If lung tissue is not destroyed by inflammation, however this happens, then it is not replaced by scar tissue.
How Big A Difference Does Taking Aspirin Make?
The researchers followed 4,469 men and women who did not have coronary artery disease. A majority of these volunteers, 55 percent, had been smokers, but many had never smoked at all. The participants in the study were given four CT scans to measure atherosclerosis in their lungs over the ten years of the study. The CT scans also detected calcifications, emphysema-like changes in the lungs. Most of the volunteers were also tested with a technique called spirometry to measure breathing capacity.
Every time the volunteers came in, they were asked which medications they had taken in the previous three weeks. About 20 percent of volunteers for the study reported that they had taken aspirin. When the doctors looked at changes in breathing capacity and accounted for previous smoking, gender, age, and high blood pressure, they noted that:
- Patients who had ever smoked, but took aspirin at least three times a week, lost lung capacity at a rate 0.37% slower than patients who did not take aspirin.
- Patients who had relatively advanced emphysema, indicated by a low spirometry reading, who took aspirin, declined at a rate 0.93% slower than patients who did not take aspirin.
In other words, if you have emphysema, taking aspirin slows it down measurably. It's not a cure. It does not stop the disease. However, it helps preserve the lung. If you already have bad emphysema, aspirin is even more useful in fighting the disease, although it is not a cure in the worst cases of emphysema, either.
The researchers who did this study point out that their results show correlation, not causation. It is possible that people who take aspirin make healthier choices in general. That could account for the slower deterioration of the lungs due to emphysema. However, taking an aspirin a day, even a 81-milligram children's aspirin, seems like an easy way to secure at least a little protection against the ravages of emphysema, provided the doctor approves. Because aspirin can interfere with certain medications (such as Brilinta after a heart attack), and because some people are allergic to it, always ask your doctor before adding a daily aspirin to your health routine.