When the alveolar walls along with the capillary blood vessels within it are destroyed the carbon dioxide and oxygen transfer within the lungs is impeded. This makes it difficult for a person to breathe.
As the severity of this disease increases and the lung is destroyed, it becomes difficult for the body to take in oxygen. This results in the narrowing of the arteries of the lungs causing hyperventilation and pulmonary hypertension. With this extra pressure on the lungs the heart muscles enlarge and finally heart failure ensues.
Emphysema is caused by a number of factors predominant among which are smoking which causes inflammation of bronchioles and results in release the tissue destroying proteases.
Aging and a deficiency of the essential alpha-1 antitrypsin that protects the lungs against this disease are some of the other causes of emphysema. One of the most common symptoms that indicate emphysema is a shortness of breath and wheezing.
This may initially be observed when you do moderate exercises but as the disease progresses the shortness of breath can be observed even while resting. Remember that this symptom may not manifest itself initially. As the lung capacity depletes slowly you may observe the symptoms.
The capacity of physical activity and exercises drops and you often tire easily even when doing simple everyday activity. This is often accompanied by chronic coughing which may be accompanied by yellowish green sputum. With the air being trapped in the lungs, some people may develop a barrel chest. With less oxygen supply, some people may also observe a bluish gray tint on their fingernails and lips.
These symptoms are accompanied by fatigue, loss of appetite along with weight loss and anxiety. Your feet, ankles and leg may start swelling. If you notice any of these symptoms it is best to seek immediate medical care. Chest x-rays, pulmonary function tests and perfusion scans along with chest CT scans help in diagnosing the problem.
Based on the severity of the problem, appropriate treatment may be provided. Medications such as corticosteroids and bronchodilators are prescribed. For severe cases pulmonary rehabilitation and lung transplantation can be done. A lung reduction surgery can help in the removal of damaged lung tissues.