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Emphysema - Diagnosis and Management

MD, DNB, Diploma in Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases (DTCD), MBBS
Pulmonologist, New Delhi  •  43 years experience
Emphysema - Diagnosis and Management

 

Emphysema is a breathing disorder that has no cure and worsens with time. The symptoms of emphysema - a feeling of tightness in the chest, persistent cough, wheezing and breathlessness – are caused due to destroyed or impaired functioning of lung tissue.

Diagnosing Emphysema
A thorough physical examination which would include weight and blood pressure checks would be performed. The doctor would also listen to the heartbeat to determine if it sounds strange or different.

In addition to checking for the signs and symptoms of emphysema, a physical examination would also help the doctor in determining the following:

  • Whether the fingertips are rounded. This condition is also known as “clubbing”.
  • Whether you have a rounded or “barrel chest” which is caused by lungs that are larger than normal.
  • If the lips have a blue tinge also known as cyanosis, which is a sign of low levels of oxygen in the blood.
  • Signs of malnutrition as in advanced cases of emphysema the muscles slowly waste away.

Tests For Emphysema
A doctor would recommend additional tests to confirm his diagnosis of this lung condition. Some of the tests are:

  • Pulmonary Function Tests or PFTs and spirometry tests would be advised to measure the volume and capacity of the lungs.
  • A chest X-ray is useful to diagnose advanced emphysema as the lungs appear larger than normal in patients with this condition.
  • A CT scan of the chest will show the air sacs or alveoli have been destroyed.
  • The blood test report of patients with emphysema would show a high amount of red blood cells. The production of red blood cells in the body increases due to the reduced levels of oxygen.
  • A pulse oximetry test also known as an oxygen saturation test could be done to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. A monitor would be attached to the patient’s forehead, finger or earlobe to carry out this test.
  • An arterial blood gas test is usually performed on patients as their condition worsens. It measures the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • An electrocardiogram or ECG might be advised to rule out condition such as heart disease as a cause of shortness of breath.

Management and Treatment
There is no known cure for emphysema and the condition can worsen with time. Treatment will slow the speed of decline and will depend on the severity of the condition when diagnosed. Some treatment options are:

  1. Quit smoking to protect your lungs.
  2. Bronchodilator medications used to treat asthma are useful in relaxing the muscles around the airways.
  3. Anti-inflammatory medications reduce inflammation around the airways.
  4. Oxygen therapy is recommended to patients when they are not able to breathe enough oxygen from the air.
  5. In some severe cases, lung volume reduction surgery might be advised to relieve pressure on the muscles required for breathing and to improve the elasticity of the lungs.

Keeping your home clean and free of dust and pollutants will help to prevent respiratory infections and disorders such as emphysema. Consult an expert & get answers to your questions!

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