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Does Emphysema Cause Chest Pain?


Chest pain in itself is not a major symptom of emphysema.(1) However, some of the physiological elements associated with the disease may cause discomfort in the lung area and, thus, feel to an individual patient like something somewhat similar.

Shortness of Breath

At the very outset of emphysema, both smokers and non-smokers will experience dyspnea, or shortness of breath, but only when they are exerting themselves. This can progress all the way to having trouble breathing while sitting or even lying down.

Other main symptoms of emphysema include wheezing, a chronic cough, the production of mucus and phlegm, fatigue, poor appetite, and weight loss. For those suffering from a genetic form of emphysema, protein transfusions may be ordered. For other patients, treatments can range from antibiotics and at-home ingestion of additional oxygen, to corticosteroids and the muscle-relaxant effects of bronchodilator medications.

Scuba Diving Variety

There is one form of emphysema for which chest pain is very much the leading symptom.(2) Mediastinal, or subcutaneous emphysema occurs in dramatic underwater circumstances among scuba divers who fail to properly exhale during their ascent back to the water’s surface. This generally occurs when a diver is distressed.

One or both lungs in this situation can rupture, causing air to travel into the mediastinum, the space between the two lungs. If that air rises into the neck area as well, it can lead to subcutaneous emphysema.

Severe COPD

Again, the presence of chest pain among emphysema patients is a sure sign of a very serious case of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD.(3) Other indications that the ailment has progressed to the life-or-death phase include coughing up blood and a purple-blueish complexion.

In these cases, a chest X-ray may be called upon, as well as blood samples, a sputum sample, and various tests. Emphysema can often be reduced to the level of elasticity in a person’s alveoli, the part of the lung(s) where oxygen enters the bloodstream and Carbon Dioxide exits. Cigarette smoke damages the walls of the alveoli and enlarges the delicate wall fabric of this essential breathing organ.



(1) Cedars Sinai – Emphysema, Retrieved June 14, 2011 from

(2) University of Maryland – Physiology Lecture, Retrieved June 14, 2011 from

(3) John Hopkins University – COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Retrieved June 14, 2011 from

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