Emphysema vs. COPD: Similarities and Variations

Medically reviewed by Susan Russell, MDMedically reviewed by Susan Russell, MD

Emphysema is a progressive well being situation attributable to persistent injury to the air sacs within the lungs, also called alveoli. Together with power bronchitis, emphysema is without doubt one of the two most typical sorts of power obstructive pulmonary illness (COPD). COPD is an umbrella time period that refers to power lung issues that trigger issues with respiration.

On this article, we’ll go over how emphysema is said to COPD and the way it differs from different sorts of COPD. We’ll additionally talk about frequent causes of emphysema and COPD, coping ideas, therapy choices, and extra.

<p>Instants / Getty Images</p><p>Instants / Getty Images</p>

How Emphysema and COPD Differ

Many individuals aren’t certain of the connection between emphysema and COPD and marvel which one is “worse.” Really, emphysema is without doubt one of the two major sorts of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The opposite is power bronchitis. Most individuals with COPD have each circumstances on the identical time, however some individuals solely have one or the opposite.

In some ways, power bronchitis and emphysema are extra comparable than they’re totally different. Each are sometimes, however not all the time, associated to smoking. They’ve many overlapping signs. akin to coughing and wheezing, and have a tendency to progress (worsen) over time.

Nonetheless, power bronchitis impacts the airways within the lungs, whereas emphysema impacts the air sacs. Additionally, power bronchitis is extra more likely to trigger extra mucus manufacturing. The primary symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath.

Emphysema vs. COPD vs. Bronchial asthma

Typically, differentiating between sorts of COPD—akin to emphysema and power bronchitis—and bronchial asthma is troublesome. Listed below are a couple of key similarities and variations:


  • Emphysema, bronchial asthma, and power bronchitis could cause wheezing, coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and issue respiration.

  • Power bronchitis might also trigger a phlegm-producing cough, particularly within the morning simply after waking up.

  • Bronchial asthma can also be related to nighttime wheezing and coughing assaults, pores and skin reactions like eczema, sneezing, and allergic rhinitis (also called hay fever).

Symptom Onset and Development

There are 4 levels of COPD, together with emphysema. Each is progressively extra extreme than the final. You’ll discover totally different signs in every stage, as follows:

  • Stage 1: The signs of emphysema come on regularly and should go unnoticed for a very long time. You could begin to discover coughing, wheezing, stress in your chest, or the occasional feeling you can’t take a full breath simply.

  • Stage 2: Through the second stage of COPD, respiration might turn out to be more durable if you’re exerting your self. Coughing might worsen and extra “productive” (i.e., producing extra sputum, phlegm, or mucus).

  • Stage 3: On this stage, you possibly can expertise extra signs like muscle weak spot (particularly within the decrease half of your physique), frequent flu and colds, and swelling within the ankles. You may need issue respiration by yourself with out oxygen remedy.

  • Stage 4: Within the remaining stage of emphysema, you possibly can expertise sudden, unintended weight reduction and dangerously low blood oxygen ranges. Some individuals expertise heart failure; some might have surgical therapy.

COPD With out Emphysema

Power obstructive pulmonary illness refers to a gaggle of comparable lung issues, the commonest of that are emphysema and power bronchitis. Analysis means that most individuals with COPD have each circumstances to a point.

Nonetheless, there are some demographic variations between the 2 sorts of COPD. Based on the American Lung Affiliation, about 3.6% of adults within the U.S. have been identified with power bronchitis. The situation is extra frequent in girls than in males.

In the meantime, emphysema appears considerably much less frequent. Roughly 1.6% of American adults have been identified with emphysema. The situation is extra frequent amongst males than girls. Each power bronchitis and emphysema are extra frequent in older adults, particularly individuals over 65 years previous.

Is One Worse?

COPD is related to excessive morbidity and mortality, representing one of many prime 10 causes of demise amongst American adults. Many individuals understandably wonder if emphysema is related to larger dangers than different sorts of COPD.

Emphysema and power bronchitis have comparable signs, therapy approaches, and prognoses. What’s extra, you usually tend to develop power bronchitis if you have already got extreme emphysema and vice versa. Folks with signs of each emphysema and power bronchitis have considerably worse outcomes on common after receiving lung surgical procedure than individuals who solely have one sort of COPD.

Causes of Emphysema vs. COPD

In as much as 75% of instances, the reason for emphysema and COPD is smoking. Nonetheless, nonsmokers may also develop emphysema. Some examples of different threat elements for emphysema embrace:

  • Publicity to smoke, akin to from secondhand smoke, wood-burning stoves, or coal

  • Occupational publicity to different environmental irritants, akin to mud or chemical substances

  • Air pollution

  • A genetic alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency

Emphysema and COPD on X-Ray

As a result of emphysema is a lung situation, you would possibly assume a chest X-ray can diagnose it. Nonetheless, that’s not the case. A chest X-ray might present some indicators of COPD, akin to lung adjustments, and rule out different attainable explanations to your signs.

To diagnose you with COPD, your healthcare supplier will ask about your signs, way of life, and medical historical past, together with threat elements akin to your publicity to smoke and air pollution. They could additionally carry out quite a lot of assessments, akin to:

  • Spirometry to measure how effectively you possibly can breathe

  • CT scans to evaluate the severity of your situation

  • Oximetry to measure your oxygen blood ranges

  • Alpha-1 testing, to examine for related genetic circumstances

Therapy for Emphysema and COPD

COPD, together with emphysema, can’t be cured. Therapy for emphysema and COPD usually entails quitting smoking and steering away from secondhand smoke, in addition to:

  • Taking prescribed medicines to assist with respiration or respiratory infections, akin to bronchodilators or antibiotics.

  • Getting vaccinated for the flu, COVID-19, and pneumococcal pneumonia.

  • Going by way of pulmonary rehabilitation, which can contain therapy from respiratory therapists, nutritionists, counselors, and/or train specialists.

  • Oxygen remedy.

  • Present process surgical procedure to enhance lung perform in extreme instances.

Quitting Smoking

Should you’re able to give up smoking, assist is obtainable. Discuss to your healthcare supplier about tips on how to give up smoking, together with making a plan to give up and managing withdrawal signs. They could additionally prescribe treatment to make it simpler so that you can give up. There are additionally a number of free smoking cessation assets obtainable in the USA. Think about:

Tips on how to Cope With Emphysema and COPD

You possibly can take steps to handle your signs of emphysema and COPD, akin to:

  • Making a COPD motion plan to establish and keep away from triggers and indicators of flare-ups

  • Working towards deep breathing exercises and pursed lip respiration

  • Pacing your self and making certain you get sufficient relaxation

  • Exercising repeatedly to keep up your total degree of health

  • Not reaching or bending an excessive amount of to keep away from fatigue

  • Consuming slowly and whereas upright

  • Consuming a number of small meals per day

  • Prioritizing your psychological well being by way of rest workouts and counseling


Emphysema is a lifelong respiration situation attributable to injury over time to the small air sacs within the lungs. It’s one sort of power obstructive pulmonary illness. It shares many comparable signs and potential well being outcomes with power bronchitis, the opposite main type of COPD. Many individuals with emphysema even have chronic bronchitis.

Warning signs of emphysema usually embrace tightness within the chest, power cough, whistling sounds whereas respiration, and issue taking a full, deep breath. Like different kinds of COPD, emphysema is progressive, that means it normally will get worse with time.

Should you assume you might have emphysema or one other type of COPD, discuss to your healthcare supplier about therapy choices. They may also help you develop an motion plan and prescribe medicines and different types of remedy as wanted.

Learn the unique article on Verywell Health.

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