Mild paraseptal emphysema may not affect your life expectancy. Medications and lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, may help prevent progression to severe emphysema, which significantly reduces life expectancy.

Emphysema is a progressive condition that causes long-term, irreversible lung damage. If you have it, you might experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing, fatigue, and wheezing.

There are several types of emphysema, and it’s possible to have more than one type at the same time. Paraseptal emphysema is one of the rarer types but is more common in people who smoke cannabis (marijuana). It typically affects the air sacs (alveoli) near the membrane that covers the lung, also known as the pleura.

If you have paraseptal emphysema, it’s possible to limit additional lung damage by quitting smoking and undergoing treatment. Here’s what you need to know about living with this condition.

Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Research links COPD to reduced life expectancy, but it usually depends on the stage.

The authors of a 2020 study assessed the average years of life lost among 532 people with COPD. They reported the following average reduction in life expectancy:

  • 0 years for participants with mild COPD
  • 6.2 years for participants with moderate COPD
  • 9.3 years for participants with severe COPD

If you receive an emphysema diagnosis, a doctor can help you understand how your specific type might influence your outlook.

The outlook for people with paraseptal emphysema can vary considerably. Factors that may affect your outlook include:

  • Smoking cessation: Smoking is the most important factor influencing your lung health. If you smoke, quitting can significantly improve your outlook.
  • Age: Emphysema is more common in older adults and can cause more severe symptoms in this group.
  • BODE Index Score: Doctors often use the BODE Index to estimate 4-year survival with COPD. This tool measures your body mass index, exercise capacity, level of airflow obstruction, and shortness of breath.
  • Care and treatments: Seeing a physician regularly and following a prescribed treatment plan can improve your outlook.
  • Diagnosis: Research links early diagnosis to a better outlook. If you experience signs of COPD, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution, and other toxins can cause additional lung damage.
  • Sex: Males have a poorer outlook with emphysema.
  • Stage: Your outlook is likely to be better if your diagnosis is for a mild form or early stage of emphysema.
  • Other health conditions: You might be at an increased risk of complications with emphysema if you’re immunocompromised or have other heart or lung conditions.

Mild vs. severe paraseptal emphysema

Doctors use computed tomography (CT) chest scans to learn more about paraseptal emphysema. Your doctor will look at your scan for spots called lucencies, a sign of affected lung tissue.

In mild paraseptal emphysema, lucencies are mostly less than 1 centimeter (cm) in diameter and are only visible near the pleural space.

In severe or substantial paraseptal emphysema, lucencies are mostly larger than 1 cm in diameter and may be more widespread.

Severe paraseptal emphysema might be associated with a poorer outlook but more studies are needed to know for sure.

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Treatments can’t reverse the lung damage caused by paraseptal emphysema. However, they can make you more comfortable and slow down lung deterioration.

Some common treatments for paraseptal emphysema include:

Your doctor will also recommend adapting your lifestyle. They may suggest:

A 2020 research review links paraseptal emphysema with increased breathing difficulties and exacerbations, along with decreased lung function and exercise capacity.

In general, though, the complications of paraseptal emphysema appear to be similar to those associated with other types of emphysema. They can include:

Paraseptal emphysema could also increase your risk of developing lung cancer, according to the authors of a 2018 study. They found that lung cancer, particularly adenocarcinoma, was more common in people with paraseptal versus other types of emphysema.

If you have stage 4 or end stage emphysema, it means your lung function is severely limited. At this stage, your symptoms will likely affect your day-to-day activities significantly.

You’re likely to feel short of breath, even when you’re not moving at all. Other emphysema symptoms, such as a cough, wheezing, and fatigue, could also worsen.

At this stage, you have a higher risk of developing complications.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about paraseptal emphysema.

How serious is paraseptal emphysema?

Paraseptal emphysema is a serious condition that can trigger life threatening complications, including a collapsed lung or acute respiratory failure. Although paraseptal emphysema doesn’t have a cure, lifestyle changes and treatment may slow its progression.

How quickly does emphysema progress?

Emphysema progresses gradually over a long period. For example, you might experience only mild symptoms, such as a chronic cough, for several years before noticing shortness of breath.

What is the end stage of emphysema?

End-stage emphysema is the most severe form of emphysema. If you have it, you might experience recurring respiratory infections, continuous shortness of breath, and weight loss.

What is life expectancy with mild emphysema?

The authors of a 2020 study found that a diagnosis of mild COPD didn’t change study participants’ average life expectancy. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that the study did not focus specifically on how paraseptal emphysema affects life expectancy.

Can you live a long life with emphysema?

By following your treatment plan and working to prevent additional lung damage, you might be able to live for a decade or more with emphysema.

Paraseptal emphysema affects the outer part of the lungs and can occur alongside other types of emphysema. Some research suggests it’s linked to a greater risk of complications, including lung cancer.

While paraseptal emphysema has no known cure, it’s possible to live with this condition. Prioritizing your lung health can help you slow down disease progression.

If you’ve received a diagnosis of paraseptal emphysema, talk with a doctor to learn more about your outlook and how you can improve it.