Emphysema refers to the destruction of the alveoli which decrease elasticity of lungs.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(COPD) is a common lung disease, Emphysema fall under the category of COPD.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of emphysema are progressive, meaning they can be expected to get worse over time.

  • Breathlessness which is the most common symptom.
  • Wheezing: This symptom of emphysema is shared with asthma.
  • Cough: A large proportion of people with emphysema experience a cough.
  • Chest tightness or pain: These may be symptoms of emphysema or of coexisting heart disease. However, chest tightness occurs more often with exercise or during periods of breathlessness.

In a more advanced stage of emphysema however, a patient might also suffer from:

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Depression
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Decreased sexual function

The main cause of emphysema is long-term exposure to:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Marijuana smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Manufacturing fumes
  • Airborne irritants

Causes and risk factors

  • Smoking. Emphysema is most likely to develop in cigarette smokers, but cigar and pipe smokers are also susceptible. The risk for all types of smokers increases with the number of years and amount of tobacco smoked.
  • Although the lung damage that occurs in emphysema develops gradually, most people with tobacco-related emphysema begin to experience symptoms of the disease between the ages of 40 and 60.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke, also known as passive or environmental tobacco smoke, is smoke that you unintentionally inhale from someone else’s cigarette, pipe or cigar. Being around secondhand smoke increases your risk of emphysema.
  • Occupational exposure to fumes or dust. If you breathe fumes from certain chemicals or dust from grain, cotton, wood or mining products, you’re more likely to develop emphysema. This risk is even greater if you smoke.
  • Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollution. Breathing indoor pollutants, such as fumes from heating fuel, as well as outdoor pollutants — car exhaust, for instance — increases your risk of emphysema.

Tests and diagnosis

To diagnose emphysema, a patient will probably be recommended to a variety of tests by the doctor.

The recommended tests are:

  • Imaging tests. A chest X-ray can help support a diagnosis of advanced emphysema and rule out other causes of shortness of breath.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scans combine X-ray images taken from many different directions to create cross-sectional views of internal organs. Your doctor may want you to have a CT scan if you’re considering lung surgery.
  • Blood taken from an artery in your wrist can be tested to determine how efficient your lungs transfer oxygen into, and remove carbon dioxide from your bloodstream.
  • Lung function tests. These noninvasive (not requiring the insertion of an instrument into the body) tests measure how much air your lungs can hold and how well the air flows in and out of your lungs. They can also measure how well your lungs deliver oxygen to your bloodstream. One of the most common tests uses a simple instrument called a spirometer, which measures the air capacity when you blow into.

Medical Concept, not for try:

  • relax constricted airways, but they’re not as effective in treating emphysema as they are in treating asthma or chronic bronchitis.
  • treat pathogenic infection, like acute bronchitis or pneumonia.
  • For medical students reference only. As patient, never change your drug prescription.

Treatment (Non-pharmacological)


  • Pulmonary rehabilitation. A pulmonary rehabilitation program can teach you breathing exercises and techniques that may help reduce your breathlessness and improve your ability to exercise.
  • Nutrition therapy. You’ll also receive advice about proper nutrition. In the early stages of emphysema, many people need to lose weight, while people with late-stage emphysema often need to gain weight.
  • Supplemental oxygen. If you have severe emphysema with low blood oxygen levels, using oxygen regularly at home and when you exercise may provide some relief. It’s usually administered via narrow tubing that fits into your nostrils.

Surgery (based on the severity):

  • Lung volume reduction surgery. In this procedure, surgeons remove small wedges of damaged lung tissue. Removing the diseased tissue helps the remaining lung tissue expand and work more efficiently and helps improve breathing.
  • Lung transplant. Lung transplantation is an option if you have severe emphysema and other options have failed.