The Symptoms of Emphysema

Symptoms of emphysema are insidious in nature and may not, at first, be easy to recognize.

Emphysema is among a group of lung diseases known as COPD, in which the alveoli of the lungs become damaged, causing them to enlarge and burst. Because the alveoli are where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged, damage to this area makes it difficult for people with emphysema to expel all their air. This causes a build-up of carbon dioxide in the body.

Currently, there is no cure for the disease and it tends to get worse over time. Recognizing the following symptoms of emphysema will lead to earlier diagnosis and emphysema treatment.

Shortness of Breath

Out of breath woman
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Also known as dyspnea, shortness of breath is the hallmark symptom of emphysema. Learn more about breaking the dyspnea cycle, along with exercises to help you alleviate shortness of breath.

Rapid Breathing

Tachypnea is the medical term for rapid breathing, which is another common symptom of emphysema. Learn why people with emphysema suffer from tachypnea.

Chronic Cough (With or Without Sputum)

A person with emphysema usually has a history of cigarette smoking accompanied by a long-term, (chronic) a cough. A cough may be either be productive (with sputum) or non-productive (without sputum). Learn more about a chronic cough and find out why COPD causes increased mucus production.


Wheezing, especially during expiration, is a common finding among emphysema patients. Learn more about wheezing. Listen to what expiratory wheezing sounds like.

Reduced Exercise Tolerance

Many people with emphysema have a reduced capacity for any type of exercise or activity. This often gets worse over time, as emphysema progresses. Find out why people with COPD struggle with decreased exercise tolerance. Discover how you can improve your exercise tolerance with emphysema.

Loss of Appetite Leading to Weight Loss

Anorexia is the medical term for loss of appetite, not to be confused with the mental condition, anorexia nervosa, which has nothing to do with COPD. Learn more about how ​a loss of appetite leads to weight loss in people with emphysema, and discover how to control shortness of breath during mealtimes so you can get the calories you need.

Barrel Chest

Barrel chest is a rounded, bulging, barrel-like appearance of the chest, which is common in the later stages of emphysema. Learn what causes a barrel chest.

Poor Sleep, Depression and Decreased Sexual Function

Although the symptoms mentioned above are most commonly associated with emphysema, poor sleep, decreased sexual function and depression also play an important role in decreasing quality of life for people who have the disease.

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