ID: 137
Category: Pulmonary condition
CreatedBy: 1
UpdatedBy: 1
createdon: 06 Feb 2023
updatedon: 05 Apr 2023

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Author: Khoa Tran
Published Feb 06, 2023
Updated Apr 05, 2023

Table of contents


Etymology and Pronunciation

Emphysema (em-fuh-SEE-muh)
emphysao - Greek for "to inflate" or "blow up"
en- - Latin prefix for "in"
physē - Greek for "breath" or "bellows"
physaō - Greek for "to blow" or "to inflate"

History of Emphysema

Emphysema is a lung disease characterized by damage to the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs, causing them to lose their elasticity and making it difficult to breathe. 

Giovanni Morgagni, an Italian anatomist, provided a detailed description of emphysema in the mid-18th century in his work "De Sedibus et Causis Morborum per Anatomen Indagatis". However, he did not use the term "emphysema" to refer to the condition at that time. Instead, he called it "turgor aeris" or "inflation of air" and observed that it frequently occurred alongside bronchitis and other respiratory ailments. The term "emphysema" was not introduced until the early 19th century.

In 1814, a Scottish physician named John James Watt published a paper titled "Cases of Pulmonary Consumption and of Chronic Disease of the Mucous Membrane of the Bronchi" in which he described several cases of emphysema. Watt was the first to use the term "emphysema" to describe the condition, which he believed was caused by the rupture of air sacs in the lungs.

In the mid-19th century, a French physician named Charles-Philippe Robin conducted research on the pathology of emphysema, observing that the condition was characterized by the enlargement of the air spaces in the lungs and the destruction of their walls. He also noted that emphysema was often associated with chronic bronchitis.

In the early 20th century, a German physician named Ludwig Aschoff made significant contributions to the understanding of emphysema. Aschoff conducted extensive research on the histopathology of emphysema, studying the changes that occur in the lung tissue during the progression of the disease. As part of his research, Aschoff developed innovative techniques to examine lung tissue. For instance, he used silver stains to help him visualize the damage to lung tissue caused by emphysema, and he utilized high-powered microscopes to examine the tissue in detail. Furthermore he was able to create and maintain tissue cultures to test different substances on lung tissue.

In the mid-20th century, the link between cigarette smoking and emphysema was established. Researchers observed that smokers were much more likely to develop emphysema than non-smokers, and that the severity of the disease was directly related to the amount of tobacco smoked.

Modern Understanding of Emphysema

Emphysema is a chronic respiratory disease that damages the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. The alveoli are small air sacs in the lungs that help with oxygen exchange. In emphysema, the walls between these air sacs are damaged or destroyed, causing the sacs to enlarge and become less elastic. This makes it harder for the lungs to expand and contract during breathing, which reduces the amount of oxygen that the body receives.

Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that causes difficulty breathing, with symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and a chronic cough that produces mucus or phlegm.

In addition to breathing difficulties, emphysema can also cause fatigue and weakness, rapid breathing, panting, and swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet due to fluid buildup. Emphysema is a serious lung disease that can lead to respiratory distress and chest pain, and can even cause a bluish coloration of the lips or face due to lack of oxygen.

Causes of Emphysema

- Cigarette smoking: primary cause of emphysema, which accounts for up to 85% of emphysema cases.
- Environmental pollution: Exposure to air pollution, chemical fumes, and other environmental irritants can cause chronic inflammation in the lungs, which can lead to emphysema.
- Genetics: In some cases, emphysema may be caused by an inherited deficiency of the protein alpha-1 antitrypsin, which helps protect the lungs from damage. This is known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency emphysema.
- Age: Emphysema is more common in older adults, as the lung tissue becomes less elastic and more susceptible to damage with age.
- Occupational exposure: People who work in jobs that expose them to dust, chemical fumes, or other lung irritants may be at increased risk of developing emphysema.
- Respiratory infections: Severe or repeated respiratory infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis, can cause damage to the lungs and contribute to the development of emphysema.

Treatments for Emphysema

There is no cure for emphysema, but treatment can help to manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. This may include quitting smoking, taking medications to open airways and reduce inflammation, and using oxygen therapy to increase the amount of oxygen in the body.

To manage emphysema, it's important to work with a pulmonologist, a lung specialist, who can develop a personalized treatment plan that may include pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, bronchodilators, corticosteroids, antibiotics, and mucolytics. In some cases, inhaled medications or surgical options may be necessary.

Lifestyle changes, such as avoiding triggers, maintaining a healthy diet, and engaging in regular exercise can also help manage symptoms of emphysema. It's important to quit smoking, manage weight, and get vaccinated against respiratory infections to slow the progression of the disease.


Shortness of breath
Difficulty breathing
Chest tightness

Confirmation Tests

- X-rays
- Lung (pulmonary) function tests
- CT scan
- Arterial blood gas analysis
- Sputum Examination

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