Emphysema Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on July 29, 2021
2 min read

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.

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

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.

As your emphysema gets worse, you may notice: