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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is the difference between COPD and emphysema?

    Are they two separate conditions? Is one a subtype of the other?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 1




    Prof Michael Abramson

    Public Health Physician, Respiratory & Sleep Medicine Physician

    Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is the approved term that includes conditions like chronic bronchitis and emphysema.  COPD is defined by abnormal lung function tests showing evidence of fixed airways obstruction.  The Global initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) currently defines this a ratio of the Forced Expiratory Volume in 1 second (FEV1) to the Forced Vital Capacity (FVC) of less than 70% after a dose of a bronchodilator like Ventolin.  This definition is currently under review and may change in the future.

    On the other hand, emphysema is defined by abnormal structure in the lung, specifically destruction of the terminal airspaces.  The alveoli (tiny air sacs) in which gas exchange occurs are destroyed and form larger flabby cysts.  If severe, these can be seen on a chest x-ray.  However often more sophisticated tests such as a CT scan and/or measurement of gas transfer are required to make the diagnosis.

    Almost all patients with generalised emphysema will have COPD.  However not all patients with COPD will have emphysema.  Some will have other conditions like chronic bronchitis.  Further information on these conditions is available at the Australian Lung Foundation website

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