Emphysema is a long-term disease of the lungs. It is a problem with the tiny air sacs that make up the lungs. These tiny elastic sacs should stretch to fill with air and then get smaller as air moves out of the lungs. Emphysema is caused by the destruction of these air sacs. This makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs.
Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
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Emphysema is caused by damage to the air sacs of the lung. This damage may be caused by:
Emphysema is more common in people over 40 years old. Other factors that may increase your risk of emphysema include:
Early symptoms include:
As the disease progresses, you may have:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your doctor will need to test how impaired your lungs may be. This may be done with:
Your doctor may also need detailed pictures of your lungs. This may be done with:
There is no cure for emphysema. Treatment is focused on managing symptoms and improving your quality of life. .
Treatment options may include one or more of the following:
Quitting smoking slows the disease. It the most important part of treatment. There are many programs to help you quit including:
Limit the number of irritants in the air you breathe. It may help make breathing easier. Avoid smoke, dust, smog, extreme heat or cold, and high altitudes.
Medication for emphysema may help by:
Some medication may be taken as pills or liquids. Others are inhaled medication that is delivered directly to the lungs.
Oxygen therapy may be helpful if the oxygen levels in your blood are too low. It can relieve trouble breathing and improve energy. You may only need it for specific activities or it may be given throughout the day.
Special exercises can strengthen chest muscles. This can make it easier to breathe.
Regular physical activity can reduce the workload on your lungs by building up endurance. Physical activity is also associated with improved quality of life. Follow your doctor's recommendations for activity levels and restrictions.
Special methods of breathing can help bring more air into the lungs. They can also help force trapped air out of the lungs. Effective coughing techniques can also help clear mucus from your lungs. Ask your doctor if these techniques can help you. Some examples include:
Eating habits to consider with emphysema:
The following may help you manage emphysema symptoms:
A small number of people may benefit from surgery. Surgery options include removing a part of the lung or a lung transplant.
To help reduce your chance of emphysema:
American College of Chest Physicians
American Lung Association
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COPD and asthma. National Lung Health Education Program website. Available at: http://www.nlhep.org/Pages/COPD-and-Asthma.aspx. Accessed March 29, 2013.
Emphysema. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/emphysema. Accessed March 29, 2013.
Explore COPD. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd. Updated June 8, 2012. Accessed March 29, 2013.
Petrache I, Diab K, Knox KS, et al. HIV associated pulmonary emphysema: A review of the literature and inquiry into its mechanism. Thorax. 2008;63(5):463-469.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 6/24/2016