What Are the Symptoms of Emphysema?

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.

This happens as a result of changes in the lungs that occur over a period of years due to lung damage. Most often it’s caused by smoking.

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


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 the 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.

As your emphysema gets worse, you may lose your appetite. You might also feel depressed, have poor sexual function, or find that you don’t sleep as well as you used to.

Symptoms tend to develop slowly and over time. Smokers who have the disease typically first develop them between ages 45 and 60. As we get older, the lungs slowly lose function -- even among nonsmokers. 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.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on March 14, 2019



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.”

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.