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Emphysema Resources

A list of Online Sources for learning more about Dyspnea

Subcutaneous emphysema

Subcutaneous emphysema occurs when air gets into tissues under the skin. This usually occurs in the skin covering the chest wall or neck, but can also occur in other parts of the body.

NCBI: National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine


Emphysema is a long-term, progressive disease of the lungs that primarily causes shortness of breath. In people with emphysema, the tissues necessary to support the physical shape and function of the lungs are destroyed. It is included in a group of diseases called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD (pulmonary refers to the lungs). Emphysema is called an obstructive lung disease because the destruction of lung tissue around smaller sacs, called alveoli, makes these air sacs unable to hold their functional shape upon exhalation. It is often caused by smoking or long-term exposure to air pollution.

The term means swelling and comes from the Greek ἐμφυσᾶν emphysan meaning inflate, itself composed of ἐν en meaning in and φυσᾶν physan meaning breath, blast.[1]

Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia

Emphysema: progressively more short of breath

Emphysema occurs when the air sacs in your lungs are gradually destroyed, making you progressively more short of breath. Emphysema is one of several diseases known collectively as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Smoking is the leading cause of emphysema.

As it worsens, emphysema turns the spherical air sacs — clustered like bunches of grapes — into large, irregular pockets with gaping holes in their inner walls. This reduces the surface area of the lungs and, in turn, the amount of oxygen that reaches your bloodstream.

The Mayo Clinic

Emphysema changes lung anatomy

Emphysema changes the anatomy of the lung in several important ways. This is due to in part to the destruction of lung tissue around smaller airways. This tissue normally holds these small airways, called bronchioles, open, allowing air to leave the lungs on exhalation. When this tissue is damaged, these airways collapse, making it difficult for the lungs to empty and the air (gases) becomes trapped in the alveoli.

Web-Med: eMedicineHealth

Emphysema:long-term, progressive disease

The lungs are a pair of organs in the chest that are primarily responsible for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the air we breathe and the blood.

The lung is composed of clusters of small air sacs (alveoli) divided by thin, elastic walls or membranes. Capillaries, the tiniest of blood vessels, run within these walls between the alveoli and allow blood and air to come near each other. The distance between the air in the lungs and the blood in the capillaries is very small, and allows molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide to transfer across the membranes.

Emphysema is a long-term, progressive disease of the lung(s) and occurs when the alveolar walls are destroyed along with the capillary blood vessels that run within them.

Emphysema: damage to the air sacs

Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) involving damage to the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. As a result, your body does not get the oxygen it needs. Emphysema makes it hard to catch your breath. You may also have a chronic cough and have trouble breathing during exercise. The most common cause is cigarette smoking. If you smoke, quitting can help prevent you from getting the disease. If you already have emphysema, not smoking might keep it from getting worse. Treatment is based on whether your symptoms are mild, moderate or severe. Treatments include inhalers, oxygen, medications and sometimes surgery to relieve symptoms and prevent complications.

U.S. National Library of Medicine, Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health

Welcome to the National Emphysema Foundation

National Emphysema Foundation aims to improve the quality of life of patients with emphysema, chronic obstructive lung disease, asthma and related lung diseases with information and education. National Emphysema Foundation supports research and works with many physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists who are involved in direct patient care.

Emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are related lung conditions that are caused by many years of cigarette smoking (‘smoker’s lung’) and other factors. An estimated 3.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with emphysema; 11.2 million U.S. adults were estimated to have COPD. The disease is estimated to kill more than 120,000 Americans each year. Smoking is the major cause, but with ever increasing air pollution and other environmental factors that negatively affect pulmonary patients, those numbers are on the rise. We must continue our work to reduce the suffering and the toll emphysema is taking.

The National Emphysema Foundation was founded in 1971; its mission is to improve the quality of life of patients with emphysema, chronic obstructive lung disease, asthma and related lung diseases with information and education for families. The National Emphysema Foundation supports research and works with many advisors who are involved in direct patient care.

What Happens in Emphysema?

Emphysema results when the delicate linings of the air sacs in the lungs become irreversibly damaged. Most commonly, the toxins in cigarette smoke create the damage. Over years, the lung changes of emphysema slowly evolve:

  • As the fragile tissues between air sacs are destroyed, air pockets in the lungs develop.
  • Air becomes trapped in these spaces of damaged lung tissue.
    The lungs slowly enlarge, and breathing requires more effort.

This problem of emphysema is called airflow limitation. During lung function testing, it takes someone with emphysema far longer to empty their lungs than it does a person without emphysema.

Emphysema is the main form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is so named because people with emphysema exhale as if something were obstructing the flow of air. The other form of COPD is chronic bronchitis, which can also be caused by smoking.

Emphysema and cigarette smoking

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of emphysema. Tobacco smoke and other pollutants are thought to cause the release of chemicals from within the lungs that damage the walls of the air sacs. This damage becomes worse over time. Persons with this disease have air sacs in the lungs that are unable to fill with fresh air. This affects the oxygen supply to the body.

A naturally occurring substance in the lungs called alpha-1 antitrypsin may protect against this damage. People with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency are at an increased risk for this disease.

New York Times Online

Emphysema: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Emphysema is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Emphysema is defined pathologically as an abnormal permanent enlargement of air spaces distal to the terminal bronchioles, accompanied by the destruction of alveolar walls and without obvious fibrosis. Emphysema frequently occurs in association with chronic bronchitis. These 2 entities have been traditionally grouped under the umbrella term COPD. Patients have been classified as having COPD with either emphysema or chronic bronchitis predominance. The current definition of COPD put forth by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) does not distinguish between emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

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Last Page Update: September 14, 2020