Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency is a genetic disease. The deficiency is passed from parents to children through genes.
Someone with AAT deficiency inherits the deficiency from both parents. The child’s genes with the deficiency don’t know how to make AAT proteins.
In AAT deficiency, the AAT proteins made in the liver aren't the right shape. Thus, they get stuck in the liver cells. The proteins can't get to the organs in the body that they protect, such as the lungs. Without the AAT proteins protecting the organs, diseases can develop.
The most common faulty gene that can cause AAT deficiency is called PiZ. If you inherit two PiZ genes (one from each parent), you'll have AAT deficiency.
If you inherit a PiZ gene from one parent and a normal AAT gene from the other parent, you won't have AAT deficiency. However, you might pass the PiZ gene to your children.
Even if you inherit two faulty AAT genes, you may not have any related complications. You may never even realize that you have AAT deficiency.
COPD and Alpha-1
If you have Alpha-1 deficiency your lungs are not protected from getting damaged. If you smoke, are exposed to second hand smoke or air pollution you are at a higher risk of developing COPD. Read our COPD section to learn more about living with your disease.