Emphysema - Symptoms

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What are the signs and symptoms of emphysema?

Emphysema is a progressive disease with the most common and characteristic symptoms of cough and shortness of breath caused by prolonged smoke exposure.

Affected individuals with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency tend to develop symptoms of emphysema at earlier ages. Emphysema is a subtype of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD in the US; COLD, chronic obstructive lung disease in the United Kingdom). Most patients, except in those in whose disease is the result of a genetic deficiency (alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency), have variable manifestations of the different components of COPD which include:

  • chronic bronchitis,
  • asthma,
  • emphysema, and
  • bronchiectasis.

Each of the subtypes has characteristic symptoms; those primarily associated with emphysema are shortness of breath and wheezing. Initially the shortness of breath (dyspnea) occurs with activity; as time continues and the disease progresses, the episodes of dyspnea occur more frequently eventually occurring at rest making routine daily activities difficult to perform and thus alters the lifestyle.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: Ninka, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: March 05

I am 69 years old, and was hospitalized this past January because of severe shortness of breath. I was diagnosed with an Exacerbation of COPD. Surprise, surprise. It took 6 days of nebulizer treatments, and lots of meds and inhalers, oxygen, etc. for me to be able to catch my breath. I quit smoking the day I went to the hospital, and have not picked up a cigarette since. I had a close call, and decided that there wasn't a cigarette in the world that was worth more than my life to me. Now I am left with lung damage which is permanent, and have a hard time breathing especially at night. My future doesn't look very bright anymore. Please, if you smoke, do anything you can to quit before it's too late. And if you don't smoke, please don't ever start. I wish I had listened when they told me to stop. It's too late for me, but may not be for you.

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Comment from: Maria, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: May 05

I was floored today, to be told I have emphysema; I have never been a smoker! I am 59, have had bouts with bronchitis all my life, and the cough that lasted several months was what pressed the doctor to do the x-ray. I don't know where to go from here; guess I need to see my primary care physician to find out for sure, because I just cannot believe this diagnosis! I have moments of lightheadedness once in a while, and my hands tend to go to sleep, even as I sleep. I wonder if these things could be caused by emphysema.

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