Emphysema, also called pulmonary emphysema, condition characterized by widespread destruction of the gas-exchanging tissues of the lungs, resulting in abnormally large air spaces.
Lungs affected by emphysema show loss of alveolar walls and destruction of alveolar capillaries. As a result, the surface available for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between inhaled air and blood traversing the lungs is reduced. In addition, loss of elastic tissue from the walls of the destroyed alveoli causes the lungs to expand within the chest cage. The expanded lungs compress the small bronchi and thus increase resistance to airflow. This is especially evident during expiration, when contraction of the muscles of the chest wall and abdomen increase intrathoracic pressure and further reduce the passage of air through the small bronchi.