Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) is a protein normally found in the lungs and the bloodstream. It helps protect the lungs from diseases such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Some people do not make enough of this protein or they make an abnormal type of AAT, either of which can cause AAT deficiency. These people are more likely to have lung diseases and will get them at a younger-than-normal age (30 to 40 years old). Some types of abnormal AAT can also damage the liver. AAT deficiency is a rare disorder and is the only known genetic (inherited) factor that increases your chances for having lung diseases.
Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is caused by a change, or mutation, in the gene that tells the body how to make alpha-1 antitrypsin. There are many kinds of possible changes in this gene, but only a few cause problems. To have this condition, you have to get the changed gene from both parents.
If you receive only one changed gene, you do not have the disease but are a carrier. The good copy of the gene you received from your other parent is enough to tell your body how to properly make alpha-1 antitrypsin. Some people who carry the changed gene may have very mild symptoms of the deficiency.
Treatment for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency mainly involves avoiding substances—especially cigarette smoke—that could harm your lungs. Also try to avoid dust and workplace chemicals. You also may want to avoid alcohol because of the risk of liver damage. Exercise can improve your stamina and overall health.
The only treatment available for the lack of the protein is plasma containing alpha-1 antitrypsin. This is usually given only to people who have very low levels of AAT in their blood. It is not clear that this treatment is any better than avoiding smoke and other lung-damaging chemicals. The plasma is made from the blood of many donors and is treated to reduce the chance of spreading an infectious disease. You receive the plasma through an IV, usually every 3 to 4 weeks for life.
A blood test can measure the amount of alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) in your blood. You may have AAT deficiency if your levels are low or if the blood test is not able to find any AAT in your blood. If your AAT level is lower than normal, the blood sample can be tested to look for abnormal types of alpha-1 antitrypsin. People who carry the changed gene may be more at risk for symptoms if they have certain types of alpha-1 antitrypsin.
Although this blood test is highly reliable, no test is 100% accurate. This test cannot predict when—or whether—you will develop symptoms or how severe they will be.
The decision to have the test is personal. You may have emotional, financial, and family reasons for taking or not taking the test.
You may choose to have the test because:
You may decide not to be tested because:
Information from genetic testing can have a big impact on your life. Ask to have genetic counselling before making a decision about testing. Genetic counsellors are trained to explain the test and its results, but you make the decision about whether to have the test. A genetic counsellor can help you make well-informed decisions. Genetic counselling can help you and your family:
Genetic counsellors are trained to help you and your family make informed decisions. They are sensitive to the physical and emotional aspects of these decisions. Your privacy and confidentiality are carefully protected.
|2937 SW 27th Avenue|
|Miami, FL 33133|
|Phone:||1-877-2-CURE-A1 (1-877-228-7321) toll-free|
The Alpha-1 Foundation provides resources for people with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a condition that is passed on from parents to their children through genes. The foundation provides information on standards for diagnosis and treatment, resources and information about alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and testing, clinical resource center locations, research programs, special stories, and education opportunities.
|Canadian Lung Association|
|3 Raymond Street|
|Ottawa, ON K1R 1A3|
The Canadian Lung Association focuses on research, education, and the promotion of respiratory health. The organization offers educational information on a variety of diseases and environmental threats, as well as information on research, support groups, and resources for children and teachers. Call to find a local office in your area.
|Genetics Home Reference, U.S. National Library of Medicine|
|8600 Rockville Pike|
|Bethesda, MD 20894|
The Genetics Home Reference provides information on hundreds of genetic conditions. The website has many tools for learning about human genetics and the way genetic changes can cause disease. It also has links to additional resources for people who have genetic conditions and for their families.
|U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)|
|P.O. Box 30105|
|Bethesda, MD 20824-0105|
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:
Other Works Consulted
- Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology|
|Last Revised||July 9, 2010|
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.