What is the Effect of Emphysema on the Heart?

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  • Written By: Nicole Long
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2018
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Emphysema limits the ability of a patient to get the necessary amount of oxygen through the lungs. While this has an immediate impact on the patient’s quality of life, emphysema can also have long-term and life-threatening effects on other organs of the body, specifically the heart. The effect of emphysema on the heart can include increased blood pressure, heart enlargement, and heart failure.

The small air sacs in the lung are known as alveoli. During inhalation, air enters the lungs and passes through the bronchial tree into the alveoli, causing the alveoli to expand. Oxygen molecules get transferred to red blood cells, and move on to supply the rest of the body with much needed oxygenated blood. The carbon dioxide is transferred to the alveoli so that it can be exhaled.

With emphysema, the alveoli become damaged, inflamed, and lose elasticity. This damage causes the oxygen content in blood to be reduced, and makes it more difficult to both expel air out of the lungs and inhale new air. It also leads to a number of common emphysema symptoms and damaging effects of emphysema on the heart.

Symptoms of emphysema include shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue and chronic coughing. Effects on the heart are among the associated complications of emphysema. This is because the heart relies on proper levels of well oxygenated blood for proper functioning.


When emphysema becomes more severe, the arteries of the lung start to narrow making it difficult for blood to flow at the proper rate. Because of this, the heart must pump harder to push the necessary amount of blood through the arteries. This will raise blood pressure in the arteries, leading to the lungs and result in a condition known as pulmonary hypertension. Hypertension can lead to an enlargement of the heart muscle, known as hypertrophy.

Emphysema can eventually leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), which is often fatal. The leading cause of emphysema is smoking. Genetics, aging, and protein deficiency can also increase the risk of developing emphysema for smokers and non-smokers alike. Other possible causes include drug use, immune deficiencies, and illnesses related to the connective tissue, such as Marfan syndrome.

Heart failure becomes a real concern when looking at the effects of emphysema on the heart. As the oxygen level in the blood deteriorates, the heart begins to fail under the added stress. Over time, this will result in the build-up of fluids in the body and possibly the need for end-of-life care and management, representing yet another impact of emphysema on the heart and body.


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