Emphysema is a serious disease that affects the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. It is a chronic lung disease that gradually destroys air sacs which enable our lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. It is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is a set of diseases where the flow of air in the lungs is obstructed. Emphysema is most often caused by smoking but can be caused by other diseases or have no known cause at all. It occurs when the very small air sacs at the ends of the airways in the lungs start to break down from many sacs to form much bigger sacs. Emphysema makes it hard for people to blow air out of the lungs because air gets trapped inside the broken air sacs due to the collapse of the walls.
A simple breathing test called spirometry is used to diagnose emphysema and determine its severity. Spirometry measures the amount of air entering and leaving the lungs. One value measured during a spirometry test is FEV1(Forced expiratory volume in one second ). It measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs in 1 second. The GOLD Emphysema Staging System is usually used by doctors to describe how bad your emphysema is. It is a set of guidelines established by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD). It classifies the severity of COPD based on a person’s degree of airflow limitation or obstruction. The worse a person’s airflow limitation, the lower their FEV1. As emphysema progresses, FEV1 tends to decline.
Classifying the severity of emphysema according to stages helps people with COPD understand their disease better and helps doctors make better treatment recommendations for their patients. The following offers a general understanding of what to expect during each stage of emphysema:
GOLD Stage I(Mild Emphysema): Your symptoms are very mild. Your FEV1 is 80% or more. You might have had no flare-ups over the past year, or perhaps just one. You weren’t hospitalized for your symptoms.
GOLD Stage II(Moderate Emphysema) : Your FEV1 is between 50% and 80%. You have more symptoms than people in Group A. This is the stage where most people see their doctor for coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. You might have had one major flare-up, but you haven’t been in the hospital for your symptoms within the past year.
GOLD Stage III(Severe Emphysema) : Air flow into and out of your lungs is severely limited. Your FEV1 is between 30% and 50%. You’ve had more than two flare-ups in the past year, or you’ve been admitted to the hospital at least once.
GOLD Stage IV(Very Severe Emphysema):It’s extremely hard for you to breathe in or out. You’ve had at least two flare-ups in the past year, or you’ve been hospitalized at least once. Doctors call this “end-stage” COPD. That means you have very little lung function. Any new flare-ups could be life-threatening.