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9 Signs and Symptoms of Emphysema

Medically reviewed by January Velasco, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Karla Pascua · Updated Jul 05, 2021

9 Signs and Symptoms of Emphysema

Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) wherein the tissue that surrounds the alveoli has become damaged. Each lung also increases in size, making it really difficult to breathe. What are the other signs and symptoms of emphysema?

Signs and Symptoms of Emphysema


Emphysema makes it difficult for people to hold or catch their breath, which is why it could lead to a persistent cough. If left untreated, emphysema can consistently stimulate phlegm or mucus production in the lungs that could lead to more severe coughing.

Coughing is a general symptom of emphysema.

Breathing Difficulties

The alveoli or air sacs are in charge of the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen molecules from the bloodstream.

When those air sacs at every end of the bronchioles are damaged, the flow of air in and out of the body is disrupted, making it really hard to breathe.

This is the most significant symptom of emphysema.


Emphysema can cause headaches because of the insufficiency of oxygen and buildup of carbon dioxide. Because of the accumulation of carbon dioxide during sleep, emphysema-induced headaches commonly happen upon waking up in the morning.

Difficulty in Sleeping

People with emphysema might experience sleepless nights. This is because of persistent coughing that makes it difficult to breathe.

COPDs such as Emphysema can also increase the risk of sleep apnea, or breathing interruptions during sleep.

Dark Lips

Because of interrupted oxygen flow throughout the body, it is possible for lips to look darker than usual in those who have this condition. 

Weight Loss

It is common for people with lung disease to experience sudden weight loss. Because once a part of the lung is damaged, calories are burned faster.

Another reason for weight loss is because of the loss of appetite. Those with emphysema may not feel like eating due to coughing or shortness of breath during meals.

It could also be because they do not feel hunger due to the lack of physical activity.


Because of the signs and symptoms of emphysema, like difficulty in sleeping, shortness of breath, headaches, and weight loss, people with this condition may feel constantly tired. 


Wheezing is characterized by whistle-like sounds coming from the lungs. This happens when air struggles to pass through a narrowed or damaged area of the lungs or airway. 

Anxiety and Depression

There are a lot of difficult changes experienced by a person suffering from emphysema like difficulty in breathing, a series of restless nights, which can lead to sadness, anxiety, or depression.

Key Takeaways

Most of the signs and symptoms of emphysema can easily be associated with other conditions. This is why emphysema is one of the conditions that may take time to diagnose.

To reduce the risk of emphysema, maintain a healthier lifestyle, eat more nutritious food, engage in physical activities, get at least eight hours of sleep every day, and have regular check-ups. Most importantly, think about smoking cessation and avoid or limit your exposure to secondhand smoke. 

If you are feeling some of the signs and symptoms of emphysema, it is best to see a doctor. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

January Velasco, MD

General Practitioner

Written by Karla Pascua · Updated Jul 05, 2021

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