Pulmonary Emphysema

There’s little as frightening and frustrating as the feeling of not getting enough air. At INTEGRIS Health, we will do everything in our power to get you breathing easier.

Breathing shouldn’t be exhausting.

Shortness of Breath

Emphysema is a disease that develops gradually, slowly making it harder and hard to breathe and get enough oxygen. There’s little as frightening and frustrating as the feeling of not getting enough air, and this shortness of breath, can turn normal activities into major obstacles for people with emphysema.

It usually begins with an obstruction of your airflow, caused by smoking, air pollution, irritating fumes or contaminants. Over time, the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs become narrowed, collapsed, stretched, overinflated or destroyed.

Let’s Work Together

Although we can’t reverse the damage that’s been done, At INTEGRIS Health we will do everything in our power to help you breathe easier. Our multi-discipline team will help in any way they can – from rehabilitation and lifestyle changes to medication, surgery and supplemental oxygen. We’re with you, every step of the way.

Understanding Pulmonary Emphysema

The following are the most common symptoms for pulmonary emphysema. However, you may experience symptoms differently – and these symptoms may resemble other conditions or medical problems, so it’s always best to talk with your doctor. Pulmonary emphysema symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Heart problems
  • Weight loss
  • Depression

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, the doctor may request the following to diagnosis pulmonary emphysema:

  • Pulmonary Function Tests: Diagnostic tests that help to measure the lungs' ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with special machines that the person must breathe into, and may include the following:
    • Spirometry: The test is performed by blowing as hard as possible into a tube connected to a small machine (a spirometer) that measures the amount and speed of air breathed in and out. This is one of the simplest, most common pulmonary function tests and is used for the following:
      • Determining how well the lungs receive, hold and utilize air
      • Monitoring lung disease
      • Monitoring effectiveness of treatment
      • Determining severity of a lung disease
      • Determining whether the lung disease is restrictive (decreased airflow) or obstructive (disruption of airflow)
    • Peak Flow Monitor (PFM): A device used to measure the fastest speed which you can blow air out of your lungs. During an asthma or other respiratory flare up, the large airways in the lungs slowly begin to narrow. This will slow the speed of air leaving the lungs and can be measured with a PFM. This measurement is very important in evaluating how well or how poorly the disease is being controlled.
  • Blood Tests: Arterial blood gas to analyze the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.
  • Sputum Culture: A diagnostic test performed on material you cough up from your lungs. A sputum culture is often performed to determine if an infection is present.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This is a test that records the electrical activity of your heart, shows abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias or dysrhythmias) and detects heart muscle damage.

Specific treatment for pulmonary emphysema will be determined by your doctor based on your age, overall health, medical history, the extent of the disease and your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies. Of course, your personal opinions and preferences will also be taken into consideration. Treatments may include:

Lifestyle Changes

  • Quitting Smoking: The single most important factor for maintaining healthy lungs.


  • Exercise: Including breathing exercises to strengthen the muscles used in breathing as part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program, to condition the rest of the body.
  • Nutritional Support: since emphysema may cause malnutrition and weight loss.


  • Antibiotics: For bacterial infections.
  • Bronchodilators: Either oral or inhaled. These are the mainstay of treatment. Other classes of oral and inhaled medications may be included as well.
  • Vaccinations: Infection can worsen emphysema symptoms, so both the pneumococcal and influenza vaccinations are recommended to prevent infection.


  • Lung Reduction Surgery: Removes the damaged area of the lung.
  • Lung Transplantation

Supplemental Oxygen: Some patients also require supplemental oxygen delivered through nasal prongs or a mask if breathing becomes difficult.

Our pulmonary rehabilitation programs at INTEGRIS help you by creating individualized plans and education, so you can do more things you enjoy. Support services include:

  • Stress management, relaxation exercises and emotional support
  • Medication management
  • Exercises for physical conditioning programs
  • Assistance with obtaining respiratory equipment and portable oxygen
  • Lung medication
  • Infection control
  • Oxygen and equipment

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