How is emphysema diagnosed?
Diagnosis of emphysema begins with a medical history and physical examination. Lung function tests can identify emphysema in Stage 0, even before the individual has symptoms. In early stages of emphysema, the only result may be dysfunction of the small airways. Patients with emphysema may show an increase in the total amount of air that is in the lungs (total lung capacity), but a decrease in the amount of air that can be moved in and out of the lungs with one deep
breath in and exhale out (vital capacity). Lung function tests measure how much air a person can take in with a deep breath. A physical examination may reveal characteristic sounds in the lungs and, in some patients, a peculiar rounding of the finger nails is observed.
A chest x ray is often ordered to aid in the diagnosis of emphysema, though patients in the early stages of the disease may have normal findings. Abnormal findings on the chest x ray include excessive inflation, or stretching, of the lungs and an abnormally increased chest diameter. The diaphragm may appear depressed or flattened. Chest x-rays sometimes (but not always) reveal hyperinflation or scarring of the lungs. Chest x-rays are also very useful in determining the amount of lung damage already sustained. Tapping on a patient's chest while listening with a stethoscope is a favorite technique of experienced doctors. Ruptured alveoli and overinflated lungs respond with a hollow sound. A registered respiratory therapist (RRT) can conduct a number of pulmonary function tests (PF Ts). Spirometry measures the amount of air the patient can exhale in 1 second (forced expiratory volume, or FEV1) into a tube connected to the spirometer. The total amount of air the patient can exhale (forced vital capacity or FVC) is then compared to the FEV1 to determine the extent of airway obstruction.
A peak flow meter is a small, hand-held device that measures the severity of breathing impairment at a given moment. The patient takes a deep breath and blows into the machine as hard and long as possible. Arterial blood gas tests measure how well the lungs are oxygenating the blood stream and removing carbon dioxide from it, and pulse oximetry uses light waves to measure blood oxygen levels. Serum alpha-1-antitrypsin levels can be confirmed by blood workup, while urine pH test, pulmonary ventilation-perfusion scan, and chest MRI may all provide valuable indicators to a medical doctor or respiratory therapist. The symptoms of emphysema are very similar to congestive heart failure, sarcoidosis, tuberculosis and other lung diseases and care must be taken by the examining doctor to identify the correct disease.
More information on emphysema
What is emphysema? - Emphysema is a lung disease that reduces the ability of the lungs to expel air, a process which depends upon the elastic properties of the lungs.
What causes emphysema? - Cigarette smoking is the major cause of emphysema. Among other causes of emphysema are industrial pollutants, aerosol sprays, non-tobacco smoke.
What're the risk factors for emphysema? - The primary risk factor for the development of emphysema is tobacco abuse. Air pollution is another risk factor for emphysema.
What are the complications of emphysema? - Emphysema patients are at increased risk of contracting recurrent respiratory infections and lung cancer. Emphysema is a very serious disease.
What are the symptoms of emphysema? - Symptoms of emphysema include shortness of breath on exertion, unexplained weight loss, increased chest size, wheezing or labored breathing.
How is emphysema diagnosed? - Diagnosis of emphysema begins with a medical history and physical examination. Lung function tests can identify emphysema in Stage 0.
What's the treatment for emphysema? - No treatment can reverse or stop emphysema, but steps can be taken to relieve symptoms, treat complications and minimize disability.
How to prevent emphysema? - Many risk factors for emphysema can be completely eliminated. The best method to prevent emphysema is to avoid smoking.