Alpha -1 Antitrypsin Deficiency

Jagdish Kathwate
MD Pediatrics. Assistant Professor, Government Medical College, Aurangabad, India.
First Created: 03/05/2001  Last Updated: 03/05/2001

Patient Education

What is alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency?

Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is an inherited disorder that may cause lung disease and liver disease.

What are signs and symptoms of alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency?

The signs and symptoms of the condition and the age at which they appear to vary among individuals. People with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency usually develop the first signs and symptoms of lung disease between ages 20 and 50. The earliest symptoms are shortness of breath following mild activity, reduced ability to exercise, and wheezing. Other signs and symptoms can include unintentional weight loss, recurring respiratory infections, fatigue, and rapid heartbeat upon standing. Affected individuals often develop emphysema, which is a lung disease caused by damage to the small air sacs in the lungs (alveoli). Characteristic features of emphysema include difficulty breathing, a hacking cough, and a barrel-shaped chest. Smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke accelerates the appearance of emphysema symptoms and damage to the lungs. About 10 percent of infants with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency develop liver disease, which often causes yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice). Individuals with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency are also at risk of developing a type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma. In rare cases, people with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency develop a skin condition called panniculitis, which is characterized by hardened skin with painful lumps or patches. Panniculitis varies in severity and can occur at any age.

How common is alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency?

Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency occurs worldwide, but its prevalence varies by population. It is uncommon in people of Asian descent. Many individuals with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency are likely undiagnosed, particularly people with a lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).COPD can be caused by alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency; however, the alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is often never diagnosed.


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