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Emphysema Symptoms

Symptoms of Emphysema Are Slowly Progressive continued...

The lungs slowly lose function with age, even in nonsmokers. In people with emphysema, smoking accelerates this loss of lung function. If a smoker with emphysema quits, he or she can reduce the rate of decline to that of a nonsmoker.

Most people experience the onset of emphysema slowly and gradually. In smokers who develop emphysema, symptoms usually begin between age 45 and 60.

It's difficult to predict the rate of progression of emphysema symptoms. Much is unknown about why emphysema occurs and in whom.

In some people, emphysema symptoms progress faster than in others. It's believed that genetic factors make some people more vulnerable to developing emphysema. Genetics may also cause some people's emphysema symptoms to progress more rapidly.

The majority of people with emphysema, though, can expect relatively slow progression of emphysema symptoms, provided they quit smoking.

Signs of Emphysema

Symptoms of emphysema describe what a person with emphysema feels. Signs of emphysema are what doctors look for to help identify emphysema and its severity. Signs of emphysema include:

  • Barrel chest: People with emphysema may have a rib cage that's larger than normal, especially from front to back. This results from the lung expansion in emphysema.
  • Clubbing: The tips of the fingers may become rounded, because of low blood oxygen levels in advanced emphysema.
  • Pursed-lip breathing: To make breathing easier in severe emphysema, people may breathe rapidly through pursed lips.
  • Polycythemia: The body produces an excessive amount of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which carry oxygen in the blood.
  • Hypoxemia (hypoxia): Low oxygen levels in the blood, detected on pulse oximetry or arterial blood gas testing.
  • Hypercarbia: High levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. This results from an inability to exhale carbon dioxide properly in emphysema.
  • Cyanosis: Blue-tinged lips, from low blood oxygen in severe emphysema.
  • Malnutrition: Muscles slowly waste away in advanced emphysema.

Most signs of emphysema develop only in its advanced stages, when emphysema symptoms are severe.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on May 23, 2014
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