Emphysema And Weight

Do you experience tightness in your breathing when you climb stairs or stand for long hours? This might be difficult, especially when having a meeting or hanging out with families and friends. This could be a symptom of emphysema and should be taken seriously. In this article, you will explore emphysema and weight, the symptoms of emphysema, and why obesity is a risk factor for emphysema.

What is emphysema?

Emphysema is a lung condition called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).1 According to a study in 2018, emphysema affects close to 250 million people around the world.2 Emphysema develops when there is damage to the air wall and important air sacs in your lungs. In a normal situation, when you breathe in, your air sac fills up with air, as you see in a balloon. When you breathe out, the air sac releases air and the air goes out. These sacs are stretchy. 

In emphysema, it is hard for your lungs to release air out of your body. This could cause serious health issues and be life-threatening.3


You may not know you have emphysema because the signs and symptoms take years to develop. Common symptoms of emphysema are. 2,4

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough with or without mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability 

A person with emphysema is often referred to as a “pink puffer”. 

Why is obesity a risk factor for emphysema?

Obesity is a common and serious health condition associated with most health issues like emphysema (COPD). Your body mass index (BMI) is used to calculate the level of obesity to know if you are overweight. This is done using your weight and height. You may be overweight if your BMI is 30 or higher.5 A study indicates that obesity is associated with several respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD, which includes people with emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Obesity is a potential risk factor for emphysema because when you are overweight the muscle strength of your lungs is compromised. In general, obesity may alter how your lungs function by reducing the gas exchange and lung volume but also by accelerating the decline in lung function and increasing the risk of death.6

Comorbid disorders

The coexistence of other diseases makes it harder to give an accurate diagnosis of the likely cause of emphysema in a person. These comorbid disorders lead to a poorer quality of life with higher death rates.

Below are some common comorbid disorders associated with emphysema.1

  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Heart failure
  • High blood pressure
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Anaemia
  • Pulmonale
  • Respiratory failure
  • Cystic fibrosis

Obesity can worsen symptoms of emphysema

Factors other than smoking do lead to a decline in the ability of your lung to function well and may cause the presence of respiratory symptoms. Obesity is a risk factor that can worsen symptoms of emphysema (COPD).7 According to a study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, there is a strong relationship between obesity and COPD. Obesity induces the state of inflammation that is seen in many health conditions and complications. 

Obesity harms the functioning of many tissues and organs in your body such as the lungs. Accumulation of adipose tissues contributes to the development of COPD, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and other serious illnesses. 

Inflammation associated with obesity worsens COPD or symptoms of emphysema. This is known as obesity-induced adipose tissue inflammation; it is common and implicated in many obesity-associated disorders. When you’re overweight, the level of the different types of agents responsible for inflammation increases. Examples of such inflammatory markers are TNF-9, IL-6, and adipose tissue.

Inflammation worsens COPD because it affects the ability of your lungs to function well. A rise in inflammation level can lead to the narrowing of the small airways, an increase in mucus secretion, and damage to the air walls and relevant air sacs in your lungs. Thus, affecting the exchange of gas in your lungs.8


Emphysema is a serious form of COPD, a lung disease condition. The signs and symptoms of emphysema may take several years to develop and vary from one person to another. Some risk factors of emphysema include smoking, obesity, and comorbid disorders. Obesity and COPD are common if you are overweight. This could have a bad effect on your health and may lead to death if not properly managed.

Because the symptoms of emphysema are not noticed immediately, you must seek medical advice immediately with your doctor or medical team to discuss specific treatment aimed at avoiding serious health issues that may be caused by the interaction between COPD and obesity.


  1. Pahal P, Avula A, Sharma S. Emphysema. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 [cited 2022 Nov 4].
  2. Devasahayam J, LaFreniere K, Naik R. Chronic emphysema. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 [cited 2022 Nov 4].
  3. Copd - what is copd? | nhlbi, nih [Internet]. [cited 2022 Nov 4].
  4. Emphysema [Internet]. [cited 2022 Nov 4].
  5. Zewari S, Vos P, et al. Obesity in copd: revealed and unrevealed issues. COPD: Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease [Internet]. 2017 Nov 2 [cited 2022 Nov 4];14(6):663–73.
  6. Gu S, Li R, Leader JK, Zheng B, Bon J, Gur D, et al. Obesity and extent of emphysema depicted at CT. Clin Radiol. 2015 May;70(5):e14-19.
  7. Zutler M, Singer JP, Omachi TA, Eisner M, Iribarren C, Katz P, et al. Relationship of obesity with respiratory symptoms and  decreased functional capacity in adults without established  COPD. Prim Care Respir J. 2012 Jun;21(2):194–201.
  8. Ferrante AW. Obesity-induced inflammation: a metabolic dialogue in the language of inflammation. J Intern Med [Internet]. 2007 Oct [cited 2022 Nov 4];262(4):408–14.

Lauretta Iyamu

Doctor of Pharmacy- PharmD, University of Benin, Nigeria

Lauretta Iyamu is a medical and health content writer with a strong passion for health, medicine, and well-being having exposure to clinical and management roles between the hospital and community healthcare sectors.
She has 5 years of experience as a registered clinical pharmacist and started her medical writing career in 2018.
Lauretta is currently undertaking the “Digital Content Marketing and Data Analytics” course online from Google.

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