It may sound like the latest sci-fi space force or a secret ops team, but Alpha-1 hits far closer to home. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, or Alpha-1, is a genetic condition that could be playing a silent role in your lung and liver health. While not as well-known as other chronic conditions, understanding Alpha-1 is crucial for patients and loved ones alike.

As your trusted pharmacy partner in respiratory health, America’s Best Care Plus is here to keep you informed and stocked with the latest news and supplies for better breathing. We’ve created this quick guide to help you understand Alpha-1 and its implications for your health.

What is Alpha-1?

Alpha-1 is a rare genetic disorder that affects the lungs and liver. It involves a deficiency in the protein alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT), which is produced by the liver and protects the lungs from inflammation caused by infections or airborne irritants. When there’s a deficiency of AAT, the lungs are more easily damaged by common irritants and infections. People with Alpha-1 are also at increased risk of developing emphysema, a type of chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD); Alpha-1 is often called ‘genetic COPD.’ The condition also commonly affects the liver and can result in decreased liver function, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.

Causes and Symptoms

Alpha-1 is a genetic condition inherited at birth. Affected people inherit a copy of the abnormal gene from each parent; those with at least one normal copy of the AAT gene are typically asymptomatic. It’s not caused by lifestyle choices or environmental factors directly, although smoking or exposure to airborne irritants will severely worsen the condition.

Alpha-1 is a progressive condition, which means it worsens over time. The onset and severity of symptoms varies from person to person, but usually begin between 20 and 50 years of age. When the lungs are affected, symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Wheezing
  • Chronic cough
  • Frequent lung infections

When Alpha-1 affects the liver, symptoms can include:

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Swelling of the legs or belly
  • Vomiting with blood
  • Blood in stool
  • Weight Loss
  • Itching

Rarely, people with Alpha-1 can develop painful skin nodules called panniculitis. They may break open and bleed or leak pus.

Treatment Options

While there’s no cure for Alpha-1, managing the condition is possible. Treatments might include medication to open airways or treat lung infections, inhaled steroids to reduce lung inflammation, and something known as augmentation therapy — regular infusions of the AAT protein to help protect the lungs.

Beyond medical treatments, lifestyle adjustments such as avoiding smoking, minimizing exposure to dust and chemicals, and following a healthy diet can help manage the symptoms. Regular exercise, under a doctor’s supervision, can also strengthen lung function.

Awareness and early diagnosis are key in managing Alpha-1 effectively. If you or a loved one has persistent respiratory symptoms, it’s worth discussing Alpha-1 with your doctor, especially if you have a family history of lung or liver disease.

At America’s Best Care Plus, we’re committed to supporting those with respiratory conditions through a range of quality supplies, from medications to nebulizers and accessories, delivered right to your door. Learn more about our respiratory supply program and how we can help make breathing a little bit easier.