It is possible to have emphysema for many years without noticing any symptoms. This is because symptoms usually begin gradually, and we have been designed to have more lung function than we need. Eventually enough of the lung becomes damaged and symptoms will begin to appear.
The primary symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath. At first, it is likely that you will notice shortness of breath only when you are performing physical activities, such as climbing stairs or doing yard work. However, as emphysema progresses, it eventually causes shortness of breath with minimal activity or even when you are at rest.
Though shortness of breath is the main symptom of emphysema, other symptoms are sometimes present:
- Chronic cough that can be dry or productive
- Decreased ability to exercise
- Weight loss
- Swelling of the ankles, feet, and legs
In cases of advanced emphysema, symptoms can become so severe that they interfere with day-to-day activities. See your doctor immediately if:
- You are so short of breath that you cannot climb stairs
- Your fingernails or lips turn blue with physical exertion
- You are not mentally alert