Emphysema causes structural alterations inside the lungs, including the erosion of lining between air sacs, notes WebMD. This leads to larger air pockets in the lungs, which trap air rather than allowing the absorption of oxygen before exhalation. Over time, the lungs grow, and breathing becomes more strenuous.
The most frequent symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath. One of the first signs people notice is that they may have difficulty breathing while doing an activity that has normally been routine for them, such as mowing the yard, riding a bicycle or going up and down the stairs. The muscles that direct breathing must work harder in people with emphysema. As a result, these muscles experience fatigue sooner, and the sufferer feels breathless. Eventually, as the condition advances, people even have difficulty breathing when at rest, as stated by WebMD.
Some of the other symptoms of emphysema include chest tightness or pain, particularly during periods of exercise, or difficulty with breathing. These symptoms may also indicate simultaneous heart disease. Persistent coughing and wheezing are also common symptoms. Decreased sexual function, poor quality of sleep, depression, weight loss and appetite fluctuations are less common symptoms of emphysema, but they can occur, according to WebMD.