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What Are the Stages of Emphysema?

What Are the Stages of Emphysema?

The four stages of emphysema characterized by symptoms ranging from mild to severely debilitating are at risk, mild, moderate, and severe.

What Is Emphysema?

Emphysema occurs when the alveoli, or the air sacs in the lungs that function as the gas-blood barrier between the bloodstream and the lungs, allowing inhaled oxygen to enter the bloodstream and waste carbon dioxide to be removed from the blood stream and exhaled from the lungs, become damaged, usually due to smoking or chronic exposure to environmental or occupational toxins. This damage restricts both air flow into and out of the body.

Stages of Emphysema

Physicians use a device called a spirometer to test for emphysema. A spirometer measures how much air your lungs can hold and how quickly you can expel air from your lungs. The results can also help determine how advanced your emphysema is.

At Risk: The at-risk stage of emphysema is characterized by normal spirometer readings in someone who is experiencing a chronic productive cough or excess mucus production.

Mild Emphysema: Mild emphysema is characterized by a slightly lowered spirometer reading in someone who is experiencing a chronic productive cough or excess mucus production. Often lung function remains strong enough that the patient isn’t aware of any restriction in the air flow.

Moderate Emphysema: Moderate emphysema is characterized by an abnormal spirometer reading and more severe symptoms. This is the stage at which patients usually become aware of their restricted air flow and seek medical attention if they are not yet aware of their illness. In addition to a productive cough and excess mucus production, patients often experience a shortness of breath after only moderate exercise,

Severe Emphysema: Severe emphysema is characterized by spirometer readings that show severe airflow restriction. Patients lose their breath after only very limited activity. Respiratory failure or heart failure become serious possibilities, and quality of life is greatly impacted at this stage of emphysema.

When to Make an Appointment

See a doctor immediately if you are experiencing a productive cough, excess mucus production, acute or chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, tightness across the chest, wheezing, anorexia and weight loss, or the tips of your fingers or your lips have turned blue or gray and you suspect you may be at risk for emphysema.

Spirometry: A test of the air capacity of the lungs.  The test uses a spirometer to measure the expiration and inhalation of the lungs.

Alveoli: The air sacs in the lungs that work to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide.


Quote: “In the past, COPD was more prevalent among men. This was attributed to the difference in smoking rates in men versus women. With the increase in smoking among women, the difference has declined. Some studies have suggested women may be more susceptible to COPD

Source:Berj George Demirjian, MD, Fellow, Division of Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

eMedicine from WebMD
Quote: “There have been no large studies to determine emphysema’s effect on life expectancy. The largest and best studies have only included a few hundred people. Emphysema staging is helpful, but emphysema still varies widely between two people at the same stage.”




Source: WebMD

“Emphysema.” National Institute of Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2010. <>.

“Emphysema –” Mayo Clinic medical information and tools for healthy living – N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2010.

“Stages of Emphysema.” COPD Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2010.

“The Different Stages of Emphysema.” VAXA Offers Homeopathic Medicine, Herbal Products, Vitamins and Supplements.. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2010.


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