The Symptoms of Emphysema
The First Symptoms
As the lung sacs start to overfill and burst, they create shortness of breath. It becomes harder to do the things you are used to doing, and your endurance takes a major hit. Because you are constantly out of breath, you will feel like you can’t keep going after a short jog or minor exercise.
This shortness of breath is caused indirectly by the problem with the lungs. The direct cause is that the muscles have to work harder. As the lungs have difficulty in maintaining oxygenation, the muscles have to work extra hard to do much of anything. They are not receiving the proper oxygen, so they are not as fluid and not as easy to move.
You can think of it like a car engine that has no oil. As it loses that lubrication, it has to work harder, and the parts rub against each other and create a lot of friction. This makes the entire engine break down. The body works somewhat the same way when it suffers from early stages of emphysema. It has to work harder and it becomes more difficult for parts to move like they should.
Breathing itself also becomes harder. Air, instead of entering and exiting the lungs normally, is often trapped inside the lungs, in the open pockets. This makes it difficult to breathe properly, and it becomes even more troublesome if you exert yourself and make your body require more oxygen.
Shortness of breath is the most common symptom that people experience who have emphysema. But there are other symptoms that can come as a part of the initial problem. Not everyone will experience them, but they are still fairly common.
These include wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. As the lungs work harder to do the same work they used to do, they create secondary symptoms. The more you exert yourself and overwork your lungs and muscles, the more prevalent these other symptoms become. They are typically developed by people who have demanding jobs or who live very physical lives. The overexertion begins to take its toll and cause them numerous health problems.
It is not uncommon to have persistent chest pain or chronic coughing that simply does not go away after taking rest. These become almost permanent symptoms in some cases, and they can make it hard for you to live your life the way you used to or to be physically active at all.
Advanced Symptoms of Emphysema
Emphysema only becomes worse over time. It cannot be cured, only treated to slow down its inevitable progression. If a smoker stops smoking and receives treatment, it can slow the progression down to a crawl. But if a smoker with emphysema continues to smoke regularly, they will aggravate their condition and cause it to rapidly deteriorate.
Other factors beyond just smoking contribute to emphysema’s worsening. These are genetic factors, and they are not entirely understood. It is simply known that some people will suffer the more serious effects of emphysema sooner than others simply because of their genetic makeup rather than because of anything they are doing to themselves.
But the symptoms will worsen over time, no matter what you do to try to stop it. Eventually, this leads to lung failure, and the body is no longer able to breathe on its own. In some cases, the lungs can be assisted by machines, but that would be all that is keeping the body alive. Once the lungs have failed, only medical machinery can continue to breathe for the patient.
Before that happens, the lungs will develop massive scar tissue. This can cause lung cancer, which is often created from the continuous creation of scar tissue. As the lungs heal, the alveoli sacs continued to burst and deteriorate, creating more scar tissue. This creates an ideal environment for cancer to form.
Those who have had emphysema for a while will show external signs of the disease. They may be barrel chested or have large bulbous fingers, all of which are caused by a lack of oxygen throughout the body.