How does emphysema affect the body?

Lauren Goode, MD
Internal Medicine
In emphysema, the walls between the tiny air sacs in the lungs lose their ability to stretch. They eventually become weakened and break. As the lung tissue becomes less elastic, air is trapped inside the air sacs, impairing the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Emphysema causes lung damage. You have airways in your lungs called bronchioles, and at the end of those airways are tiny air sacs called alveoli. Alveoli and the cells that support them usually hold your bronchioles open so air can pass through and oxygen can be distributed into your bloodstream. However, when you have emphysema, your alveoli get damaged and your bronchioles may collapse. To put it simply, emphysema causes your airways to collapse and makes it difficult to breathe. The end result is the body not getting enough oxygen.

Continue Learning about Emphysema


Emphysema is difficulty breathing due to air trapped in the lung, resulting in reduced lung capacity. Smoking is usually the cause, as it damages the linings of the air sacs in the lungs making them close. This leads to areas of t...

rapped air in your lungs. Other causes may include coal dust and other pollutants. Your lungs enlarge to compensate, but there are limits to this. Treatment may be medical and include oxygen support, medication and respiratory therapy. Of course stopping smoking is always recommended. Surgical treatment by cutting out damaged portions of the lungs and reducing lung volume is also effective.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.