Emphysema - Symptoms

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What are symptoms of emphysema?

Emphysema is a progressive disease with symptoms beginning in patients after 50 years of age. Prolonged exposure to smoke gradually causes enough lung destruction to cause the characteristic cough and shortness of breath. 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 in the United Kingdom). Most patients, except in those in whom 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.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: Mouse, 55-64 Male (Caregiver) Published: March 04

I lost my husband to an easily preventable cancer 6 years ago and now my 2nd husband has early emphysema. He"s said for years he"ll probably die of it because his mom has it, but did he quit smoking? No! Now I"m scared that once again I"m going to be watching a beloved husband die a slow and agonizing death. My husband smoked 35 years or more and lost most of his teeth due to the damage it causes and looks 20 years older than he is. He"s always been mistaken for a man in his 80s since he was in his mid-50s (he's 61 now). He coughs a lot and wheezes during lovemaking. He"s also stressing a lot watching his mom suffer through the final stages of emphysema. When he was first diagnosed, I sent away for a refillable e-cigarette for him to try and wean off cigarettes (going from full nicotine down to water vapor). It worked, thank goodness. But now I constantly worry - what is "early" emphysema; does it always progress (his doctor said he won"t, but I don"t know if I believe him). I"m scared of losing him and need to know what his and our future is! I"m also angry because everyone knows the risks and still they smoke! My sister-in-law is also in the last stages and I remember her very angrily saying she refused to quit. Now it"s too late for both her and my mother-in-law.

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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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