Emphysema Symptoms

Friday, September 12, 2008

Emphysema is a progressive lung disease that results in shortness of breath and reduces your capacity for physical activity.

The cause of emphysema is damage to the small air sacs and small airways in your lungs. This damage obstructs airflow when you exhale.

When emphysema is advanced, you must work so hard to expel air from your lungs that just the simple act of breathing can consume a great deal of energy. Unfortunately, because emphysema develops gradually over many years, you may not experience symptoms such as shortness of breath until irreversible damage has already occurred.

Treatments for emphysema focus on relieving symptoms and avoiding complications.


The main emphysema symptoms are shortness of breath and a reduced capacity for physical activity, both of which worsen as the disease progresses. In time, you may have trouble breathing even when lying down, and it may be especially hard to breathe during and after respiratory infections, such as colds or the flu.

Other signs and symptoms of emphysema include:

  • Chronic, mild cough. Cough is uncommon with emphysema. When it does occur, it's usually nonproductive, which means that you won't bring up much phlegm when you cough. If you have a chronic productive cough, you may have chronic bronchitis — another form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — rather than emphysema.
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss. It's a vicious cycle. Emphysema can make eating more difficult, and the act of eating can rob you of your breath. The result is that you simply may not feel like eating much of the time. Also, when you eat, your stomach expands and pushes up the diaphragm, which compresses the lungs and makes it harder to breathe.
  • Fatigue. You're likely to feel tired both because it's more difficult to breathe and because your body is getting less oxygen. You also become out of shape because exercise makes you short of breath.