What Is the Average Emphysema Life Expectancy?

Emphysema patients usually do not live for more than four years after their diagnosis.
Spirometers are used to calculate the life expectancy of an emphysema patient.
A chest X-ray can be used to diagnose emphysema in patients.
Smoking damages the lungs and increases a person's risk of developing emphysema.
Wheezing and chest tightness are symptoms of emphysema.
A patient's emphysema prognosis depends on follow-up treatment after the initial diagnosis.
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  • Written By: Nick Doniger
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 03 April 2015
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The average emphysema life expectancy is rarely more than four years beyond diagnosis. By the time emphysema is diagnosed, the disease usually has already advanced to a severe stage. This condition is often caused by smoking, and it is common among elderly men. Clinical tests will provide a somewhat accurate estimate for a patient's life expectancy, though the prognosis also depends on follow-up treatment. Such treatments do not cure emphysema, but rather relieve its symptoms and extend life expectancy slightly.

An early diagnosis might help to lengthen the average emphysema life expectancy. Even when diagnosed early, however, survival far beyond four years after diagnosis is generally not common. The disease is diagnosed at four different stages of development, i.e., stage one, two, three, and four. These numbers refer to "mild," "moderate," "severe," and "very severe," respectively.


In most cases, significant damage has already been sustained at the time of diagnosis, which shortens the patient's life expectancy. Those who smoke are at the highest risk of developing the disease, as are those who have a very low body weight. Elderly men are also found to develop the disease more often than other demographic groups. Those who fit into these categories and experience considerable coughing, excess phlegm production, and difficulty breathing are encouraged to see a medical professional for a checkup. Once the disease develops into symptoms such as severe fatigue and intolerance to physical activity, it may have advanced to one of the severe stages.

An accurate estimate for emphysema life expectancy can only be determined with the use of a spirometer. This device calculates the amount of air a patient can exhale per second. Those with emphysema are usually only capable of exhaling less than half the amount of air of a normal, healthy person. When a drastically low reading is attained, life expectancy is estimated at four years or less.

A full four-year prognosis is actually considered a somewhat optimistic average, however. How long a patient is expected to live depends on not only the time of diagnosis, but the follow-up treatment a patient undergoes. In many cases, if untreated, a patient will only survive for about two years.

The most important treatment for many emphysema sufferers may be to stop smoking. Keeping away from secondhand smoke can also help. Sometimes, emphysema is caused by a lung infection rather than from smoking. In such cases, medication is available which may slightly increase a person's life expectancy and improve quality of life. Though these treatment may provide some relief, emphysema is thought to be incurable.



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Post 10

My mum was diagnosed some 15 years ago, so four years is certainly nonsense if all the anecdotes here are anything to go by! As well as that, there doesn't seem to be a single reference in this article.

Post 9

My husband was first diagnosed 24 years ago. Inhaled medications have helped, but for the last 2 years he's on oxygen (at first just at night; now 24/7). He stopped working last year. I figure we've been living on borrowed time for a long time.

The past six months or less have been pretty bad. His O2 levels are tanking and the coughing... He's exhausted and it's so hard to watch. This article with the four-year prognosis is garbage. A good pulmonologist and following instructions will keep you going a whole lot longer than that. The trouble with people is they wait too long to go to the doctor.

Post 8

My doctor is a jerk. He told me two years ago I had emphysema but did not follow up. I have just been told I am at stage 3 and my prognosis is three years max, after not smoking for a year. He also took two years to find my wife's cancer.

Post 5

My father has been living with emphysema for 14 years! He only just started using full-time oxygen last year. However, now his bad days seem to out number his good. We are lucky to have had him this long. He quit smoking two years before diagnosis. He then smoked for a couple of years after when the stress of my daughter's cancer got to him, because smoking helped.

So, now I wonder just how long it is before he goes. He doesn't get up much and can't walk very far without being "winded". He also has to sit to shave, etc. Also sometimes he feels like his throat is closing. Any info would be helpful.

Post 4

Is the life expectancy for someone with subcutaneous emphysema the same as for someone with regular emphysema? I've been doing some volunteering at a local nursing home, and one elderly man I have befriended has this condition.

He gets swollen patches on his neck and chest, and when the nurse touches them, they crackle. It's a scary sound. She says that he has trapped gas in pockets under his skin.

I hate to think that he may die soon, but I don't know how long they expect him to live. He just found out he had it a few months ago. Can I expect another four years with him, or is subcutaneous emphysema more severe?

Post 3

@Oceana – That is amazing! My grandmother had only mild emphysema, and she died after three years. Yours must have been quite the fighter!

Not long after my grandmother passed, my great-uncle found out he had severe emphysema. They both were young adults during a time when no one believed that smoking was bad for you, so they smoked for many years.

My great-uncle only lived for a year. He did a lot to mend past relationships and help people out during that year, though. I think that the knowledge that he would soon pass prompted him to do what he should have been doing all along.

Post 2

I had no idea that four years was the life expectancy for an emphysema patient! My grandmother lived for seven years after her diagnosis, and we were beginning to think that she might actually beat the disease!

She fought hard, and she had a determined spirit. There is really nothing you can do when you lose the ability to breathe normally, though. Willpower doesn't affect lung capacity in the final stages.

Post 1

I think that my grandfather was the exception to the rule of typical life expectancy with emphysema. He lived to be eighty-five, and he had smoked for over twenty years.

He did quit smoking decades before diagnosis, though. I was kind of surprised to hear that he developed emphysema so late in life. I would have thought he would have gotten it right after he stopped smoking instead.

His last few years were hard on both him and my mother, who took care of him until he had to be committed to a nursing home. He needed someone to watch him around the clock, and my mother had to work and take care of us children. He died at that nursing home, struggling for his last breath.

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