Emphysema is a lung disease that causes shortness of breath. It is also referred to as chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD).

Emphysema causes damage to the lung tissue and alveoli or tiny air sacs. Over time, this damage causes the tiny air sacs to break and create one big air pocket instead of small ones. When the air sacs break, the big air pockets trap stale air in the damaged tissue and this stops oxygen from easily moving into your blood stream. This makes it harder for you to breathe and keep your body properly oxygenated.

Key Facts About Emphysema

  • Over three million people in the United States are living with emphysema.
  • Emphysema can be caused by smoking, indoor and outdoor air pollution and by a genetic form of COPD called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.
  • Signs and symptoms of emphysema may take years to develop. The most common early warning signs are shortness of breath, coughing up mucus, wheezing and chest tightness.
  • A healthcare provider will review your medical history, conduct a physical exam and diagnose emphysema using a lung function test called spirometry. Other procedures or tests may include chest X-rays, CT scan, pulse oximetry, arterial blood gas test and electrocardiogram (ECG).
  • Emphysema cannot be cured but treatments can help manage symptoms. Treatments may include quitting smoking and medication to take as needed or every day. A quick relief medication is taken as needed to relieve symptoms like shortness of breath or cough. An every day medication may help reduce swelling in the airways or prevent muscles in the airways from tightening.
  • Supplemental oxygen is a medication prescribed by your healthcare provider and can increase the oxygen levels in your body. Other treatments may include non-surgical endobronchial valve therapy or EBVs. EBVs are placed in your airways to allow trapped air to escape. Lung volume reduction surgery can relieve pressure by removing a portion of diseased lung tissue or a lung transplant may be considered.

Visit our COPD section to learn more »

Interventional Therapies for COPD

Learn more about treatment options for severe COPD or emphysema. These approved treatments include surgical procedures like lung volume reduction surgery and non-surgical treatments which include endobronchial valves or EBVs.
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