Emphysema Symptoms

Lung cancer may be the disease most commonly associated with smoking cigarettes, but it is not the only such disease. Emphysema may precede or occur separately from lung cancer. It is characterized by problems with exhalation of air from the lungs. This occurs because the bronchioles—the tiniest air passages—become disfigured and fail to function properly. Emphysema can be part of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Breathing Problems

Emphysema changes the way your lungs function and, in fact, makes a malfunction occur. You may experience problems with your breathing as part of the set of symptoms associated with the disease. You may, for example, have frequent bouts of shortness of breath, meaning it is difficult to breathe normally. As the disease progresses, this symptom becomes more pronounced. You also may begin to hear a high-pitched noise when you exhale. This is called wheezing, and it is another typical symptom of emphysema. Your chest also may feel very tight.


Emphysema cuts down on the usefulness of the lungs, so it can show itself in several over all body symptoms. Fatigue is the most common symptom. When you are fatigued, you experience a lack of strength to even get up from the couch. Your whole body may feel weak and even limp. With emphysema, this can occur even without being active. This symptom, along with shortness of breath and wheezing, can cut down on your ability to engage in normal physical activity.

Coughing and Appetite Problems

As with other problems associated with lung diseases, emphysema can make you cough. This can become chronic and nearly constant. This symptom, the Mayo Clinic reports, also may indicate chronic bronchitis. The disease also can make you less hungry than usual, which can lead to unintended weight loss.

About this Author

Carole Anne Tomlinson has been a registered nurse working in a variety of medical environments for more than 25 years. She now serves as the nursing supervisor for a chemical dependency facility. She has also written numerous articles for a variety of websites.