Life Expectancy of Someone With Emphysema

Written by karen hellesvig-gaskell
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According to the American Lung Association, more than 3 million people in the U.S. (primarily over age 45) have been diagnosed with a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease known as emphysema. Together with chronic bronchitis and other chronic lower respiratory diseases, emphysema is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. The ALA says 120,000 people die from COPD's each year. There is no cure for emphysema, but its symptoms are controllable.


Emphysema is a chronic and progressive disease which causes a loss of respiratory function and keeps your body from getting the oxygen it needs. Early symptoms of emphysema include shortness of breath, wheezing, a tight feeling in the chest and a persistent cough. There may also be fatigue, a lack of hunger and weight loss.

Smoking & Emphysema

Smoking is the number one cause of emphysema.

Emphysema develops when the air sacs at the ends of your smallest air passages (bronchioles) are slowly but steadily destroyed.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several thousand chemicals in tobacco smoke, and the irritants in these substances gradually ruin the small peripheral airways, the elastic air sacs and their supporting elastic fibres.

Protein Deficiency

The Mayo Clinic says up to two per cent of emphysema sufferers have an inherited deficiency of a protein which serves as a shield for the elastic structures in the lungs. When the AAt protein is absent, enzymes can cause progressive lung damage, eventually resulting in emphysema. The disease advances rapidly in those who are both AAt deficient and smokers.


First and foremost, smokers are strongly encouraged to quit.

Treatment for emphysema varies, depending on the severity of your symptoms, but it typically includes inhalers, oxygen and medications.

The American Lung Association says drugs that relax and open air passages in the lungs (bronchodilator drugs) may be prescribed if your airways tend to tighten or constrict. These medications can be taken orally or inhaled.

In some cases surgery is performed to lessen symptoms and prevent complications.

A lung transplantation may be an option for severe emphysema when all other treatment options have failed.

Emphysema is Incurable

Emphysema places considerable limitations on day to day activities and reduces the quality of life.

Since lung damage is irreversible, emphysema unfortunately cannot be cured. Treatments are intended to preserve lung function by preventing any additional lung destruction's.

Patients may need supplemental oxygen as emphysema worsens. In the beginning oxygen may be used only at night. As the disease progresses it may become necessary to perform routine daytime activities,


People with emphysema can live for a long time after they are diagnosed. Your prognosis will depend on the extent of your lung damage, whether you have quit smoking, the type and quality of your medical care and other health issues you may be dealing with. Patients will eventually die of the condition, or from an emphysema-related complication.


Emphysema can aggravate other long-term conditions, including diabetes and heart failure. Air pollution or a respiratory infection can result in extreme shortness of breath and dangerously low oxygen levels (acute COPD exacerbation) if you presently suffer from emphysema.

You may require hospitalisation and be placed on artificial breathing machine (ventilator) until the infection is treated.

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