What is COPD?

10) Emphysema

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In emphysema exposure to an irritant over many years causes an inflammation in the lungs which causes the following changes:

  • Loss of elasticity of the lungs. These changes cause the air sacs (alveoli) to close before you have fully exhaled. As a result, air gets trapped in the lungs and the lungs get bigger (hyper inflated). The big hyper inflated lungs flatten and the main muscle of breathing, the diaphragm, cannot work as well as it should. Your breathing muscles then have to work harder to get air in and out of your lungs. This is why you may be feeling breathless. However, this does not mean that your oxygen levels are low because the breathing muscles around the chest are working harder to compensate.This extra effort can make you feel very tired.
  • The alveoli become permanently damaged.
  • The amount of breathlessness you experience may get worse with activity. This is because you breathe faster when you are active. More air gets trapped in the lungs and your breathing muscles have to then work even harder to get air in and out of your lungs. This may also make you feel very tired.
  • It is important to know that you should not stop being active because you are breathless. You need to keep active because your other large muscles such as those in your legs can quickly become weaker or deconditioned. The less you do, the less you will be able to do. The key to keeping active is to pace yourself. Your health care team can help you manage the level of activity and exercise which is suitable for you. ┬áSee our section Pacing on this website for more information.