Emphysema

Lungs in chest, showing inside airways of a lung with detail of healthy alveoli and damaged alveoli.

Emphysema is a long-term (chronic) lung disease. With emphysema, the tiny air sacs (alveoli) at the end of the airways in the lungs are damaged. When the air sacs are damaged or destroyed, their walls break down and the sacs become larger. These larger air sacs move less oxygen into the blood. This causes problems with breathing or shortness of breath. These symptoms get worse over time. After air sacs are destroyed, they can't be replaced.

Emphysema is often caused by smoking. A rare type of emphysema is caused by the lack of a substance in the lungs called alpha1-antitrypsin. This type of emphysema is usually inherited.

Current as of: July 6, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Ken Y. Yoneda MD - Pulmonology