Emphysema (cont.)

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How is emphysema diagnosed?

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As is the case with most illnesses, the health care professional will take a careful history to learn about the lung and breathing symptoms.

  • How long has the shortness of breath been present?
  • What makes it better?
  • What makes it worse?
  • Has there been an infection recently?
  • Have the symptoms been getting more severe?
  • Does the patient smoke?
  • Does the patient have exposure to secondhand smoke or other toxic fumes?
  • Are there other exposures of diseases that may be contributing to the shortness of breath?
  • Is there a family history of lung disease?

Physical examination

Physical examination will concentrate on the lung findings, but may also include the heart and the circulatory system.

  • Is there an increased respiratory rate?
  • Is the patient short of breath just sitting in the examination room?
  • In addition to the ribs and the diaphragm, is the patient using the intercostal muscles (those between the ribs) and neck muscles to breathe? When used, accessory muscles cause the appearance of indrawing, where there is observable sucking in of muscles during the breathing cycle. This is normally seen in people who have just exerted themselves as the body recovers from exercise or work. In patients with emphysema it may be observed at rest.
  • Does the chest appear enlarged or barrel-shaped?
  • Does the chest cavity sound hollower than it should?
  • Does exhalation take longer than it should? Since the elasticity of the lung has been lost, it takes longer for air to be forced out in the breathing cycle.
  • Is the movement of the diaphragm decreased?
  • Is the patient cyanotic (having a blue tinge to the skin color signifying lack of oxygen in the blood)?
  • When listening to the lungs, are there wheezes present, especially if the patient is asked to exhale quickly?
  • Is clubbing present? This is a characteristic change in the fingernails and tips of the fingers associated with lung disease and chronic hypoxia.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/14/2013

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Emphysema - Describe Your Experience Question: Please describe your experience with emphysema.
Emphysema - Symptoms Question: What were the symptoms of your emphysema?
Emphysema - Causes and Risks Question: If known, what was the cause of your emphysema?
Emphysema - Diagnosis Question: What kinds of tests and exams did you have that led to a diagnosis of emphysema?
Emphysema - Treatment Question: Please describe the treatments, therapies, and medications you've received for emphysema.
Emphysema - Smoking Question: Are/were you a smoker prior to your emphysema diagnosis? If you've stopped, what worked for you?
Emphysema - Rehabilitation Question: Please share suggestions and tips for exercising and rehabilitating to control your emphysema.