​Emphysema

Emphysema is a chronic lung disease that develops after many years of smoking. There is destruction of the fragile walls and elastic fibres of alveoli, which are small sacs of air (like a bunch of grapes) found at the end of your airways. Normally, alveoli function similar to a balloon; they expand when filling with fresh air, oxygen goes into your blood in exchange for carbon dioxide, and then they contract to push out the used air. The walls of these alveoli are the primary interface for absorption of oxygen and removal of carbon dioxide from your body. Once the inner walls of these air sacs get ruptured, it creates one large air space instead of many small ones, so the surface area of the lung decreases, reducing the amount of oxygen reaching the bloodstream. Emphysema is a component of a complex lung disease known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). ​

Emphysema can be also be caused by extensive exposure to air-borne irritants like marijuana smoke, industrial fumes and other air pollutants. In rare cases, it is caused by a deficient protein responsible for elasticity in the lungs. Predominance is seen in males between the ages of forty and sixty. Complications can evolve, such as pneumothorax (air trapped outside the lung underneath the chest wall) and heart disorders (because of the rise in back pressure in arteries connecting your heart to your lungs).​​

The primary symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath. There could be a constant feeling that you are not able to get enough air. It usually takes a gradual start, and you may tend to avoid activities that cause you to be short of breath. Eventually, it surfaces by meddling with daily tasks, and in later stages results in situations where you’re short of breath even while resting. Other complaints include:

  • Cough

  • Wheeze (whistle like sound from chest)

  • Tiredness

  • Sleep problems

  • Weight loss (long term sequel)

  • Anxiety/depression (long term sequel)​

If you are experiencing shortness of breath for a prolonged period of time, and it is adversely interfering in your daily activities, arrange an appointment with your physician early. The Heart, Lungs and Vascular Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital, offers quality health care and a range of treatment options. However, you should access the 24/7 Emergency and Acute Care Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital if:

  • Your shortness of breath is making you incapable of breathing normally at rest

  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray with exertion or at rest

  • You do not feel mentally attentive​

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here ​are some tips to help get you started.​ ​

In order to confirm the diagnosis of emphysema, your doctor will take a detailed medical history and may conduct following tests:

  • A chest X-ray can help diagnose emphysema and ruling out other factors that may result in shortness of breath. 

  • CT (Computerized Tomography) scan provides a detailed image of your lungs and assist doctors in making a concrete diagnosis.

  • Blood tests are done to ascertain the efficiency with which your lungs absorb oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide.  

  • Lung function tests could be ordered. These are non-invasive methods to determine the effectiveness of lungs in managing air flow. 

  • If you are coughing up phlegm, a sample may be collected to test for infection.

  • ECG (Electrocardiogram) to check out the electrical activity of your heart​

The damage to your lungs is irreversible, but treatments can help relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. The Aga Khan University Hospital provides you a chance to access multiple services under one roof, which can guide you to cope with your ailment and live a comfortable life. There are a number of ways in which your symptoms can be managed: 

  • Your doctor may prescribe medications depending on the severity of your disease. Bronchodilators help relieve coughing and shortness of breath by giving relief to air passages. Steroids (inhaled or oral) may also contribute in relieving shortness of breath. In case of an infection, antibiotics are added to the regimen.  

  • Pulmonary rehabilitation involves teaching you breathing exercises. 

  • Nutrition therapy emphasizes on changes in nutrition to alleviate the associated issues like gain or loss of weight depending on the stage of emphysema.

  • Supplemental oxygen is given in severe cases of emphysema with extremely low levels of oxygen in your blood.

  • In chronic cases, your doctor may also recommend surgery. Lung volume reduction surgery is the removal of affected tissues in lungs to help them function properly. If all else fails, the option of lung transplant may also be exercised. ​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​




The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.