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Emphysema is a long-term lung disease that is most commonly caused by smoking. It is part of a group of lung diseases called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Emphysema damages the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs. This makes it hard for your lungs to send oxygen to the rest of your body.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • You are more likely to get lung infections. One or both of your lungs can collapse. You are at greater risk of lung cancer. Severe emphysema can lead to heart disease. Your heart has to work harder because of the damage to your lungs. You may have chest pain or high blood pressure. You can have a heart attack. This can be life-threatening.

  • Lack of oxygen may cause damage to your organs, such as your heart or kidneys. You may develop anemia (not enough red blood cells) or glaucoma (an eye disease). You are at greater risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones) and broken bones.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


Keep the head of your bed raised to help you breathe easier. You can also raise your head and shoulders up on pillows or rest in a reclining chair. If you feel short of breath, let caregivers know right away.

Heart monitor:

This is also called an ECG or EKG. Sticky pads placed on your skin record your heart's electrical activity.


  • Bronchodilators: These help open your airway so you can breathe better. They are most often taken through one of the following devices:

    • Inhaler: This handheld device delivers medicine that you breathe in.

    • Nebulizer: This machine turns liquid medicine into mist that you breathe in through a mouthpiece.

  • Steroids: These help decrease swelling in your lungs. They may be inhaled or taken as a pill.

  • Antibiotics: These kill the bacteria that caused your lung infection.


  • Blood tests: Your blood is tested for the amount of oxygen, acids, and carbon dioxide it contains. This is also called an ABG test.

  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your lungs and heart. Caregivers use the x-ray to look for damage to your lungs.

  • Spirometry: A spirometer measures how well you can breathe. You will take a deep breath and then push the air out as fast as you can. The test measures how much air you are able to push out. This is called forced expiratory volume (FEV). The test results show caregivers how small your airway has become.

  • Exercise test: This checks how long you can exercise. It shows how well your lungs work and helps caregivers plan your treatment.

  • Sputum sample: Sputum is collected in a cup when you cough. It is sent to a lab to check for a lung infection.

  • ECG: This is also called an EKG. An ECG is done to check for damage or problems in your heart. A short period of electrical activity in your heart is recorded.

  • Bronchoscopy: This is a procedure to look inside your airway and learn the cause of your airway or lung condition. A bronchoscope (thin tube with a light) is inserted into your mouth and moved down your throat to your airway. You may be given medicine to numb your throat and help you relax during the procedure. Tissue and fluid may be collected from your airway or lungs to be tested.


Your treatment may change if your illness is not controlled. This is often decided after you have tests. You may have some of the following treatments together:

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation: This program can help you function better with emphysema. You will learn how to manage your symptoms and help keep them from returning. Pulmonary rehabilitation may include exercises that build up your lung strength.

  • Oxygen: You may need extra oxygen if you have severe emphysema. You breathe the oxygen through a face mask or a nasal cannula. A nasal cannula is a pair of short, thin tubes that rest just inside your nose.

  • Surgery: You may need surgery if you have severe emphysema and all other treatments have failed. A lung reduction is when part of your damaged lung is removed to help you breathe better. A lung transplant is when your lung is replaced with a lung from a donor. Ask your caregiver for more information about emphysema surgery.

  • NPPV: Noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation, or NPPV, may help you breathe without using a breathing tube in your throat. Instead, a machine helps your lungs fill with air by using a mask or a mouthpiece. If a mask is used, it may go over your nose and mouth, or just your nose. Extra oxygen may be given to you through the machine also. NPPV may help you avoid needing a breathing tube, or may be used if you do not want one.

  • A ventilator is a machine that gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe well on your own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your mouth or nose and attached to the ventilator. You may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is a tube put through an incision and into your windpipe.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.