Difference Between Emphysema and COPD

Main Difference – Emphysema and COPD

Emphysema and COPD are two respiratory conditions which are often used interchangeably due to several common features they share. Emphysema is a condition in which the air sacs of the lungs are damaged and enlarged, causing breathlessness. COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a combination of respiratory diseases that contains chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. This is the main difference between Emphysema and COPD.

This article explains,

1. What is Emphysema?
– Signs and Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment

2. What is COPD?
– Signs and Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment

3. What is the difference between Emphysema and COPD?

Difference Between Emphysema and COPD - Emphysema vs COPD Comparison Summary

What is Emphysema?

Emphysema is defined as a subcategory of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which involves the permanent dilatation of air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. These sacs, present at the end of bronchioles, become enlarged due to the collapsing, narrowing, stretching or over-inflation of their walls. This will ultimately reduce the surface area available for the exchange of oxygen into the blood, resulting in an impairment of respiration.

The major cause of Emphysema and COPD is tobacco smoking, but in some individuals, this will occur as a result of a genetic predisposition where the individuals are born with a deficiency of α1-antitrypsin protein which is required for the protection of alveolar tissue from neutrophil elastase.

 Other minor risk factors include,

  • Low body weight
  • Respiratory conditions during childhood
  • Exposure to second-hand smoking
  • Air pollution
  • Occupational exposure to mineral and cotton dust
  • Chronic inhalation of chemicals such as coal, cadmium,

Patients with Emphysema will usually experience shortness of breath and cough, and some can have frequent lung infections, wheezing, loss of appetite and weight, sleep disturbances, morning headaches, anxiety, depression, etc.

A complete history of the patient and a thorough physical examination will help to identify the clinical signs and symptoms of Emphysema which can further be confirmed by investigations such as Lung function test and spirometry.

Lung function test will help to confirm the air-flow limitation, quantify the severity and reversibility and exclude other differential diagnoses such as heart failure and asthma. This test will also help to assess the progression of the condition and response to treatment.

Spirometry will assess the airflow obstruction depending on the reduction of forced expiratory volume following the treatment with bronchodilators.

Major therapeutic intervention for COPD and Emphysema include pharmacological treatment and supportive measures including oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation and the cessation of smoking.

The hallmark of the management of both COPD and emphysema involves the usage of inhaled bronchodilators which will help to relax and open up the air passages in the lungs.

  • Beta-agonists
  • Anti-cholinergic drugs

Patients with severe symptoms which do not improve on drugs are indicated for surgery which includes, Lung-volume reduction surgery or lung transplantation.

Main Difference - Emphysema vs COPD

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a combination of respiratory diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma which develops mainly due to chronic cigarette smoking, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, cystic fibrosis, exposure to irritants, bronchiectasis, etc.

Most patients will complain of signs and symptoms related to chronic bronchitis such as,

  • Productive cough, later leading to intermittent dyspnea
  • Recurrent chest infections
  • Progressive cardiac or respiratory failure (edema and weight gain)

And emphysema such as,

  • A history of progressive dyspnea accompanied by a non-productive cough
  • Occasional muco-purulent relapses
  • Cachexia
  • Respiratory failure

The method of diagnosis and treatment are similar to that of emphysema, mentioned above.

Difference Between Emphysema and COPD

Difference Between Emphysema and COPD

  • COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)  is a lung disease characterized by chronic obstruction of lung airflow that interferes with normal breathing and is not fully reversible.
  • COPD a combination of respiratory diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.
  • Thus, Emphysema is a part of COPD.

Image Courtesy:

“Blausen 0343 Emphysema” By Blausen Medical Communications, Inc. – Donated via OTRS via  

“Copd 2010Side” By (Public Domain) via  

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music


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