Shortness of breath is by far the most common of emphysema symptoms. Most people with emphysema first notice something's wrong when they become winded during a previously routine activity. This might be climbing stairs or mowing the lawn.
The shortness of breath in emphysema results from structural changes in the lungs. These occur over years in response to lung damage, usually from smoking:
The linings between air sacs are destroyed, creating air pockets in the lungs.
Air is trapped in these air pockets and is difficult to breathe out.
The lungs slowly enlarge, and breathing takes more effort.
In people with emphysema, the muscles responsible for breathing have to work harder, and tire out sooner. The result is feeling breathless -- at first with activity -- and at rest in advanced emphysema.
Other Emphysema Symptoms
Virtually everyone with emphysema experiences shortness of breath, especially with exertion. Many people with emphysema develop some of the other emphysema symptoms:
These symptoms of emphysema occur more often in its advanced stages.
Symptoms of Emphysema Are Slowly Progressive
Symptoms of emphysema are progressive, meaning they can be expected to get worse over time. The rate at which breathlessness worsens depends mainly on whether someone with emphysema continues to smoke.