Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Emphysema

The primary cause of emphysema is smoking, but there are other factors that can increase your risk for developing emphysema. They include:

  • Age: Most people who develop smoking-related emphysema will begin to experience symptoms between the ages of 40 and 60.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke: Anyone exposed to secondhand smoke from cigarettes, pipes and cigars is at risk of getting emphysema.
  • Occupational exposure: Chemical fumes and dust from coal, wood, cotton or grain can increase the risk of emphysema. This risk is even greater if you are also a smoker.
  • Exposure to airborne pollutants: Fumes from heating oil or car exhaust or smog increases your risk of emphysema.

Diagnosing emphysema

Your physician may perform the following tests to determine if you have emphysema, including:

  • Chest X-ray: A chest X-ray can help identify the level of damage to your airways. It can be used to confirm a diagnosis of emphysema, but cannot make an accurate diagnosis by itself.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: This test combines X-ray and computer technology to produce detailed cross-sectional images of your chest cavity for a more accurate diagnosis.
  • Arterial blood gas: This blood test checks the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood and measures your blood’s acidity. It reveals how well your lungs are transferring oxygen into your bloodstream and how efficiently they are removing carbon dioxide.
  • Spirometry: This test measures the quantity and speed of air you exhale to estimate how well your lungs are functioning.

Diagnostic Tests