Emphysema Symptoms

If you have emphysema, the muscles that help you breathe have to work harder. They also tire out sooner. The result? You feel short of breath after the slightest activity. As the disease gets worse, you may feel breathless even when you’re sitting still.

Symptoms tend to develop slowly. Smokers who have the disease typically first show signs between ages 45 and 60. As you get older, your lungs slowly lose function -- even if you don’t smoke. If you have emphysema and continue to smoke, you'll lose lung function faster. If you quit, you may be able to slow the process.

Early Symptoms of Emphysema

You can have emphysema for years and not know it. But there is one major symptom and it usually starts slowly: shortness of breath.

Symptoms of Moderate Emphysema

In addition to shortness of breath, you may also have:

Many times, smoking causes a persistent cough. But if you have emphysema, the cough might not go away even after you’ve quit smoking.

Tightness or pain in your chest could be caused by emphysema or heart disease that develops as a result of emphysema. You may notice this more during exercise or when you feel short of breath.

Severe Symptoms and Complications of Emphysema

As your emphysema gets worse, you may notice:

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on July 17, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

The Journal of Clinical Investigation: “Molecular pathogenesis of emphysema.”

Albert R. Clinical Respiratory Medicine, Mosby Elsevier, 2008.

American Lung Association: "Diseases A-Z: Emphysema."

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: "Diseases and Conditions Index: COPD."

Thorax: “Developing COPD: a 25 year follow up study of the general population.”

Mayo Clinic: “Emphysema.”

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center: “Advanced Emphysema.”

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