What is it?

Emphysema is a chronic lung disease in which the lung alveoli are damaged. Together with chronic bronchitis they make up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In emphysema, the lining of the alveoli gets damaged and ruptured, creating a large air space that reduces the surface area needed for gas exchange. During exhalation, the air is trapped in the lungs, making it an obstructive pulmonary disease. There are two major causes for emphysema- smoking and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

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Signs & symptoms

It may take years to notice emphysema symptoms. Emphysema symptoms may include shortness of breath, a permanent cough, chest tightness or pain and wheezing. When the emphysema gets worse it may include loss of appetite, depression, sleep problems, blue lips or nail beds, fatigue, frequent lung infections, morning headaches and weight loss.


Emphysema diagnosis includes medical history and physical examination. A chest X-ray may be done to rule out other causes for shortness of breath. A CT can be useful in diagnosing emphysema. Lung function tests measure how much air is exhaled in each breath and can indicate an obstructive problem.


Emphysema can’t be cured but there are some treatments that relieve the symptoms such as bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroid and antibiotics for bacterial lung infection. Pulmonary rehabilitation has an important role in treatment as well, teaching the patient techniques that may help reduce breathlessness.

☝️ This is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your physician before making any medical decision.

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