9 main symptoms of pulmonary emphysema

9 main symptoms of pulmonary emphysema


Symptoms of pulmonary emphysema are mainly persistent cough, phlegm production and shortness of breath. Although they may be milder in the initial stages, they tend to worsen over time and limit the performance of daily tasks when the disease is not treated properly. Furthermore, respiratory symptoms may worsen at times, especially when airway infections occur, such as colds, flu and pneumonia.

Pulmonary emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease mainly caused by smoking, which leads to the destruction of the lung and loss of its elasticity, and although the disease has no cure, it is possible to alleviate the symptoms and control its evolution. .

If you suspect pulmonary emphysema, it is important to consult a general practitioner or a pulmonologist to carry out a more detailed assessment and initiate the most appropriate treatment. Find out how emphysema is treated.

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Main symptoms

The main symptoms of pulmonary emphysema are:

  1. Feeling of shortness of breath;
  2. Increased phlegm production;
  3. Intense discomfort when making efforts;
  4. Persistent cough;
  5. Wheezing in the chest;
  6. Weight loss;
  7. Tiredness;
  8. Chest swelling;
  9. Blue fingers and toes.

Furthermore, when there are respiratory infections such as a cold or flu, the symptoms generally worsen, with the feeling of shortness of breath, coughing and phlegm production being more severe. If respiratory symptoms suddenly worsen, it is important to consult an emergency room for evaluation or contact your doctor.

Early stage emphysema symptoms

In the initial stages, pulmonary emphysema may cause few or no symptoms, but as the lungs become more affected, symptoms such as shortness of breath, tiredness and persistent cough may appear, limiting the performance of daily tasks.

Symptoms are best noticed during more intense efforts, such as running, climbing stairs or carrying out heavy work.

Symptoms of advanced stage emphysema

When not treated properly, pulmonary emphysema can worsen to such an extent that coughing, phlegm production and shortness of breath become increasingly intense, making it difficult to breathe.

In addition, weight loss usually occurs and periods of worsening respiratory symptoms may occur more frequently. Find out how to prevent pulmonary emphysema from worsening.

In the advanced stage of emphysema, shortness of breath can be so severe that it interferes with daily tasks such as taking a shower or climbing stairs, and can occur even at rest. In more severe cases, the fingers and toes may appear bluish and the chest may increase in size, taking on a barrel-like shape.

Online symptom test

Pulmonary emphysema is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). To find out your chances of having chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, please select the symptoms you present:

How to confirm the diagnosis

The diagnosis is usually made by a pulmonologist, who takes into account the symptoms presented and may indicate tests such as chest x-ray, computed tomography or spirometry. See what spirometry is and how it is done.

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Furthermore, in some cases, blood tests, such as arterial blood gas analysis and alpha-1 antitrypsin measurement, may be indicated.

Possible causes

The main cause of emphysema is smoking, and other factors, much less commonly, can lead to emphysema, such as:

  • Genetic changes, such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency;
  • Inhalation of toxic gases, such as air pollutants or fuels, for long periods;
  • Inhalation of dust, such as coal, for example.

In these situations, what occurs is the loss of elasticity of the lungs and their ability to carry out gas exchange, due to irritation caused by contact with toxic substances or due to genetic changes.

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  • JANSSEN, Rob et al. Emphysema: looking beyond alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Expert Rev Respir Med. Vol.13, n.4. 381-397, 2019
  • JARDIM, José R. Update and future perspectives for the diagnosis of alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency in Brazil. J Bras Pneumol. Vol.47, n.3. 2021
  • STATPEARLS. Chronic Emphysema. 2022. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539910/>. Accessed on Aug 1, 2022
  • STATPEARLS. Emphysema. 2022. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482217/>. Accessed on Aug 1, 2022