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What Is Early Emphysema?

Exposure to cigarette smoke is a leading cause of emphysema.
Smoking damages the lungs and increases a person's risk of developing serious illnesses.
Coughing can be an early sign of emphysema.
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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2014
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Emphysema is a chronic lung disease characterized by symptoms such as shortness of breath. With emphysema, the tissues in the lungs are destroyed, and the majority of cases are caused by smoking. This disease has four stages, each with breathing difficulties of varying degrees. During early emphysema, some individuals may not even realize that there is a problem.

Early emphysema is often thought of as the first two stages. The first stage of emphysema is referred to as the at-risk stage. The disease is still in its preliminary stages at this point, and symptoms may be extremely mild or even non-existent. During very early emphysema, patients may experience a mild cough, sometimes called a smoker's cough. This cough is also accompanied by a small production of mucus.

During the second stage of emphysema, symptoms may start to worsen. The cough often becomes more frequent, and mucus production may also increase. Because this is still part of early emphysema, other breathing difficulties may not be very apparent. Some patients, however, may start to notice that they become winded much easier, such as during long walks or when climbing stairs.

The later stages of emphysema, the moderate and severe stages, typically bring symptoms that are worse than those of early emphysema. Breathing difficulties become more apparent during the moderate stage of this disease. A patient may begin to notice that he is frequently short of breath. Strenuous activity often seems to be the cause of most breathing problems.

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Severe emphysema is the last and worst stage of emphysema. During this stage, earlier symptoms of this disease are much more prevalent. A patient can become winded or short of breath with no apparent cause and little physical activity. This final stage of emphysema could possibly lead to death.

There is no cure for emphysema, and the damage done to the lung tissue can not be reversed. Treatment is mainly focused on slowing the progression of the disease rather than reversing any damage. One of the first things that an individual who was diagnosed with emphysema must do is to quit smoking and avoid all contact with any type of cigarette smoke or other harmful fumes.

Pulmonary rehabilitation can help, usually more with the later stages than with early emphysema. This therapy is aimed at reducing symptoms. Patients are educated about their disease and taught ways to deal with it. The good habits that they learn during pulmonary rehabilitation can lead to a better quality of life.

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