Emphysema is part of the COPD group and is a disease of the lung that primarily causes shortness of breath. The tissues that support the physical shapes and the functions of the lungs are destroyed causing the airways to lose their shapes upon exhalation.

When these small airways collapse, the airflow is blocked and air is trapped in the lungs. People with this disease don't get enough oxygen and cannot eliminate the carbon dioxide, so they always have a shortage of breath.


Data shows that most of the people who have emphysema are smokers. Unfortunately, the damage caused by this disease is permanent even after the person stops smoking.

In normal breathing, air is drawn in through the bronchi and into the alveoli(which are tiny sacs). The alveoli absorb the oxygen and then transfer it into the blood.

When you inhale the cigarette smoke, the harmful particles become trapped in the alveoli, causing a localized inflammatory response. This deforms the lung architecture and results in a decrease of alveoli surface area used for gas exchange.

With this decrease in surface area, your body has difficulty eliminating the carbon dioxide. As the alveoli continue to break down, hyperventilation is unable to compensate for the progressively shrinking surface area, and the body is not able to maintain high enough oxygen levels in the blood.

This leads to pulmonary hypertension, which places increased strain on the right side of the heart, the side responsible for pumping deoxygenated blood to the lungs. The heart muscle thickens in order to pump more blood.

Eventually, as the heart continues to fail, it becomes larger and blood backs up in the liver. Unfortunately, this is an irreversible degenerative condition. The most important way to slow its progression is for you to stop smoking and to avoid all exposure to cigarette smoke.

The only known "cure" for this disease is lung transplant and few patients are strong enough to survive this type of surgery.

Return from Emphysema to COPD

Related Links:
Effects of Smoking
Chronic Bronchitis
Smokers Lungs