Emphysema (Lung Condition) (cont.)

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How is emphysema diagnosed?

After obtaining a history and physical exam, especially noting whether or not the patient is or has been a tobacco smoker, the doctor may recommend several tests.

  • Usually the first preliminary test is a chest X-ray that helps distinguish emphysema from other lung problems.
  • A computerized tomography (CT) scan may be ordered to provide the doctor with more information. This test allows the physician to see the actual makeup of the lung tissue and visualize the degree of emphysema.
  • Additional tests such as lung function spirometry tests that measure how well a person can move air in and out of their lungs is often ordered.
  • More elaborate testing determines how well gases diffuse through the lung tissue. This test is called the diffusing capacity test, and is a physiologic test of underlying emphysema in patients with obstructed airflow, as measured by spirometry. In addition, blood taken from an artery can determine how well the patient's blood is being oxygenated by the lungs, and how well carbon dioxide is being removed.
  • A non-invasive test of oxygenation is the oximeter. This is a small device usually place on a finger that measures a person's oxygen saturation and pulse.

The diagnosis of emphysema is based on the results of these tests. Often, your primary doctor will refer you to a pulmonary specialist for any additional diagnostic tests and treatments.

What is the treatment for emphysema?

The first treatment for patients with emphysema is smoking cessation if they are currently smoking tobacco. This is a difficult lifestyle change for many patients, and without support from their doctors, family members, and friends; this most important treatment will likely fail. The best way to accomplish this difficult task is outlined in the "quitting smoking" section. In addition, there is pharmacological and surgical therapy available for emphysema patients and these therapies will be discussed in the next sections.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/16/2014

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Emphysema - Experience Question: Please share your experience with emphysema.
Emphysema - Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you experience with emphysema?
Emphysema - Risk Factors Question: What risk factors do you have for emphysema? If so, what lifestyle changes do you plan to implement to prevent progressive emphysema?
Emphysema - Treatments Question: What treatments have been helpful in treating emphysema?
Emphysema - Diagnosis Question: What kinds of tests and exams did you have that led to a diagnosis of emphysema?
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Emphysema - Smoking Question: Are/were you a smoker prior to your emphysema diagnosis? If you've stopped, what worked for you?