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Emphysema

What Are The Symptoms Of Emphysema?

Last updated on:
22/03/2012

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

The first sign of emphysema is shortness of breath when you are exerting yourself. Eventually, this shortness of breath may occur even when you are at rest.

As the disease progresses, the following symptoms which are related to one of the other major lung diseases also caused by smoking - bronchitis - may occur:

  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea - this can also be caused by emphysema)
  • Coughing (with or without sputum)
  • Wheezing (this can also be caused by emphysema itself)
  • Excess mucus production
  • A bluish tint to the skin (cyanosis)

Nice To Know:

If wheezing occurs, it helps to know whether it is found while breathing in or out (or both). Wheezing at the end of a complete exhalation is usually due to bronchitis. Wheezing that begins early in expiration is usually due to emphysema or the combination of bronchitis and emphysema - COPD.

If you only wheeze when you breathe in, you probably have asthma (or, very rarely, a narrowing of your windpipe in your neck). Asthma and emphysema sometimes are confused with each other. One way to tell the difference is to try asthma medications prescribed by your doctor and see if they make a difference. While people with asthma often respond dramatically to medications, people with emphysema usually do not respond to asthma medications and those with COPD may respond somewhat. In some people bronchitis may lead to asthma which is difficult, even for physicians, to distinguish from asthma due to allergy.

Nice To Know:

Emphysema may affect the brain, too. Low oxygen levels in the blood may mean that the brain is not getting enough oxygen. The end result can be grumpiness, irritability, impaired mental ability. High carbon dioxide levels in the blood can lead to headaches and sleeplessness.

 

 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.