Is emphysema life threatening?

Jamie McGinn
Nutrition & Dietetics

Emphysema is a type of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and can be life threatening due to the increase metabolic needs associated with poor lung function. COPD may increase your metabolic needs by 150%, however when you have COPD it is often difficult to eat for a variety of reasons. Some people get full quickly (early satiety), some have problems eating and breathing simultaneously, some have poor appetite, some may experience gastrointestinal symptoms from medication use causing poor food intake.

People with emphysema are often very thin due to these reasons and this causes the disease to worsen - it's a viscous cycle. Seeing a registered dietitian can help the patient and family to meet their nutrient needs to maximize longevity and quality of life.

If left untreated, emphysema can be life threatening. It is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is the third leading cause of death in the United States. It kills about 135,00 Americans annually. Severe cases of emphysema can also become deadly if you develop pneumonia or some other type of illnesses that may cause you to have trouble breathing. However, if you are diagnosed with emphysema before too much damage has been done, you can significantly slow the progression of the disease by changing your lifestyle and following a treatment plan prescribed by your doctor. For smokers, this will require you to quit smoking.

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.