Pulmonary Emphysema

Pulmonary Emphysema

Pulmonary emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is caused by the destruction of the tiny air sacs in the lungs, known as alveoli. This destruction of the alveoli decreases the total area available for gas exchange and also decreases elasticity of the lungs.

Symptoms of Pulmonary Emphysema may include shortness of breath, coughing with sputum production, wheezing, chest tightness, and decreased exercise tolerance. Other associated clinical manifestations related to COPD can include a chronic productive cough, weight loss, fatigue, and cyanosis.

The most common cause of pulmonary emphysema is smoking, although genetic and environmental causes are possible as well. Other COPD conditions such as chronic bronchitis and asthma can also contribute to the development of emphysema.


The diagnosis of pulmonary emphysema is made based on a patient's medical history, physical examination, laboratory studies, and imaging tests. Pulmonary function tests are the most reliable way to diagnose emphysema, as these tests measure lung volume, airflow, and gas exchange. Additional imaging tests such as Chest X-rays or CT scans of the chest may be used in order to visualize the presence of emphysema in the lungs.


Treatment for pulmonary emphysema typically involves lifestyle modifications, such as quitting smoking and avoiding air pollutants. Medical treatments and therapies may include supplemental oxygen therapy, bronchodilators, anti-inflammatory medications, and pulmonary rehabilitation. In advanced stages, lung reduction surgery or lung transplantation may be required.


The best way to prevent the development of pulmonary emphysema is to avoid smoking and other sources of air pollution as much as possible. Additionally, individuals should exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and avoid exposure to allergens. Vaccinations against respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, may also reduce the risk of developing COPD.


The primary complication of pulmonary emphysema is progressive breathing difficulty. Additionally, other complications of COPD and emphysema may include:

  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory infections
  • Inflammation and swelling of the airways (bronchitis)
  • Depressed immune system
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Lung cancer