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Emphysema Stages

Emphysema Stages

One of the common forms of chronic lung disease is what is known as emphysema. And this article discusses the four stages of emphysema, and its other important aspects.
Rajib Singha
Last Updated: Jan 21, 2018
Emphysema is one of the two forms of the medical condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is a common condition of the lungs, wherein, the affected person has a hard time breathing. It blocks airflow as the person exhales. Emphysema destroys the air sacs at the end of the smallest air passages (bronchioles). This causes air pockets to develop in the lungs. Now when the person breathes, the inhaled air gets trapped in these pockets thus, making it difficult to exhale. As the damage progresses, the surface area of the lungs reduces thus, reducing the amount of oxygen reaching the bloodstream. Emphysema is an irreversible condition, and smoking is known to be the main cause behind its development. Scientists are not clear, however, about how smoking destroys the air sacks. Other causes could include long-term exposure to air pollution, marijuana smoke, fumes, and dust of coal and silica. In rare cases, deficiency of a particular protein may also cause the same.
Pulmonary function testing is used by doctors to diagnose or determine the different emphysema stages. It is a painless test. 'At risk' and 'mild emphysema' come under the early stages, and at a later stage, these are followed by moderate and severe emphysema. The following will let you know about all these stages, and other vital information related to the condition.
Four Stages of Emphysema
At Risk
In this stage, the breathing test would be normal. The affected person may suffer from symptoms which are mild by nature such as a moderate or low-grade cough and sputum production.
Mild Emphysema
This stage of emphysema is characterized by mild airflow limitation. The symptoms will be the same as that in the first stage, i.e., cough and sputum production. However, there may be an increase in their frequency. Here the person may not be aware that the airflow in his lungs is getting reduced.
Moderate Emphysema
The third stage exhibits a significant worsening condition of the airflow limitation which had occurred in the second stage. Here, the coughing and sputum production worsens so much that the affected person may find it difficult to breathe. However, there would be an absence of shortness of breath, until being triggered by any activity such as brisk walking, working hard or any other strenuous activity.
Severe Emphysema
This is the final stage of emphysema, and as the name suggests, the condition here, takes a severe form. Airflow limitation is at its worst, and so is the difficulty in breathing. Even a simple walk may leave the patient gasping for breath. In this stage, the patient is highly susceptible to suffer from respiratory failure or heart failure. This is usually known as the end stage of emphysema as, with the worsening condition, the patient's life is greatly threatened.
Treatment Plan
The damage that emphysema causes in the lungs is irreversible thus, the condition is incurable. The treatment plan aims towards relieving the discomfort caused by the symptoms, and to slow down the progress of the condition. It comprises medications, therapy, and depending on the severity of the condition, some people may have to undergo surgery as well.
Patients are advised to follow a few self-care measures at home to slow down the progression of the disease, and prevent complications.
  • The first thing to do would be quitting smoking. With every smoke, lungs become weak, and the condition progresses faster
  • Patients are also recommended to stay out of places that can expose them to respiratory irritants; common examples being certain perfumes, air pollution, and exhaust from vehicles to name a few
  • Regular exercise is important, as it helps in increasing lungs capacity thus, improving respiration. However, one must consult his/her doctor about the right kind of exercise
  • Cold weather can be a bane for people with emphysema, as cold air can worsen the damage of the bronchioles thus, making it more difficult to breathe. So protecting oneself from such conditions is also important
  • Equally important is to build immunity against infections by getting vaccinations, and avoid contact with people who have cold or flu

That was all about the four stages of emphysema, and some info on its treatment. Smokers always have a lurking risk of developing this disease, and when it does, there's no turning back. So choose a healthier way to live life, and spare yourself from all such painful conditions.