Emphysema Diagnosis

A doctor will carry out a physical examination and ask the patient about their symptoms and medical history.

Some diagnostic tests may also be used, to confirm that the patient has emphysema rather than asthma and heart failure.

If the patient has never smoked, a test may be carried out to see if the person has an α1-antitrypsin deficiency.

Lung function tests

Lung function tests are used to confirm a diagnosis of emphysema, to monitor disease progression, and to assess response to treatment.

They measure the capacity of the lungs to exchange respiratory gases and include spirometry.

Spirometry assesses airflow obstruction. It takes measurements according to the reduction in forced expiratory volume after bronchodilator treatment.

In this test, patients blow as fast and hard as possible into a tube. The tube is attached to a machine that measures the volume and speed of air blown out.

Forced expiratory volume in one second is abbreviated to FEV.

The four stages of COPD from mild to severe are determined by FEV.

Other tests

Other tests used by doctors in the process of diagnosing COPD and emphysema include:

  • Imaging, such as a chest X-ray or CT scan of the lungs
  • Arterial blood gas analysis to assess oxygen exchange

Emphysema Prevention

Avoiding or quitting smoking is the best way to prevent emphysema or stop it from getting worse.


Vaccination can help prevent COPD and emphysema from getting worse.

Annual flu immunization is required, and a 5-yearly one against pneumonia may be recommended.


Reduced lung capacity places higher energy demand on daily activities, so people with emphysema can be at risk of weight loss and nutritional deficiency.

Some people with emphysema are overweight or obese, and they are encouraged to lose weight, as these conditions can lead to further ill health.

A healthful diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and a low intake of fat and sugar is important.