Comparing Emphysema and chronic bronchitis in 2022(Updated)

Comparing Emphysema and chronic bronchitis in 2022(Updated)

Emphysema vs. Chronic Bronchitis: What Is there Differences?

Comparing Emphysema and chronic bronchitis in 2022(Updated)


Understanding COPD

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are all long-term lung conditions.

They all consist of disorder that is called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). for the fact that so many people have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the umbrella term COPD is often used during it’s diagnosis.

The symptoms of both conditions are similar and are typically caused by smoking. Approximately 90 percent of COPD cases are related to smoking. Less common causes include genetic conditions, air pollution, exposure to toxic gases or fumes, and dust.

Keep reading to learn about the symptoms of emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and how they’re diagnosed.


Chronic bronchitis vs. emphysema: Symptoms

Both emphysema and chronic bronchitis affect your lungs. That means they can cause similar symptoms.

Here are the symptoms they have in common, and how you can tell the difference between these similarities.

Shortness of breath

Emphysema’s primary and almost sole symptom is shortness of breath. It may start small: For example, you might have difficulty breathing after a long walk. But over time, the shortness of breath worsens.

Before long, you may have difficulty breathing even when you’re sitting and haven’t been active.

Shortness of breath isn’t as common in people with bronchitis, but it’s a possibility. As your chronic cough and airway swelling from chronic inflammation worsens, catching your breath may be more difficult.


As breathing becomes more labored, people with emphysema may find that they tire more easily and have less energy. The same is true for people with chronic bronchitis.

If your lungs can’t properly inflate and supply oxygen to your blood, your body will have less energy. Likewise, if your lungs can’t properly expel oxygen-depleted air from your lungs, you have less space for the oxygen-rich air. This can lead you to feel fatigued or weak overall.


Symptom Emphysema Chronic bronchitis
shortness of breath
difficulty performing tasks
feeling less alert
blue or gray fingernails
excess mucus production
symptoms that come and go

Are there any distinct signs or symptoms of emphysema?

Emphysema is a progressive disease. This means that symptoms of the condition grow worse over time. Even if you quit smoking, you can’t stop your symptoms from worsening. You can, however, slow them.

Although its primary symptoms are difficulty breathing and fatigue, you may go on to experience the following complications:

  • difficulty performing tasks requiring concentration
  • decreased mental alertness
  • blue or gray fingernails, especially after physical activity

These are all signs that emphysema is becoming more serious. If you begin noticing these symptoms, be sure to consult your doctor. This can help them make decisions about your treatment plan.

Are there any distinct symptoms of chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis has several more notable symptoms than emphysema. In addition to difficulty breathing and fatigue, chronic bronchitis can cause:

Excess mucus production

If you have chronic bronchitis, your airways produce more mucus than normal. Mucus is naturally present to help catch and remove contaminants.

This condition causes mucus production to kick into overdrive. Too much mucus can clog your airways and make breathing difficult.



A chronic cough is more common in people with chronic bronchitis. That’s because bronchitis creates excess mucus on the lining of your lungs. Your lungs, sensing the irritation caused by extra fluid, try to remove the mucus by causing you to cough.

Because the overproduction of mucus is chronic, or long term, the cough will be chronic, too.


It’s not uncommon to experience a low-grade fever and chills with chronic bronchitis. However, if your fever goes above 100.4°F (38°C), your symptoms may be the result of a different condition.


Fluctuating symptoms

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis may get worse for a period of time. Then they may get better. People with chronic bronchitis may pick up a virus or bacteria that makes the condition worse for a short period of time.

It’s possible, for example, that you can experience both acute (short-term) and chronic bronchitis at the same time.


How is emphysema diagnosed?

There isn’t a single test to detect and diagnose emphysema. After assessing your symptoms and reviewing your medical history, your doctor will perform a physical exam.

From there, they may perform one or more diagnostic tests. This may include:

Imaging tests

Both a chest X-ray and CT scan of your lungs can help your doctor detect possible causes for your symptoms.


Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) test

AAT is a protein that protects your lung’s elasticity. You can inherit a gene that will make you AAT deficient. People with this deficiency may be more likely to develop emphysema, even without a history of smoking.

Pulmonary function tests

This series of tests can help your doctor understand how well your lungs are working. They can measure how much air your lungs can hold, how well you’re emptying your lungs, and how well air is flowing into and out of your lungs.

A spirometer, which measures how strong airflow is and estimates your lungs’ size, is frequently used as a first test.


Arterial blood gas test

This blood test helps your doctor get a very precise reading of the pH and the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. These numbers provide a good indication of how well your lungs are working.


How is chronic bronchitis diagnosed?

Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed after you experience several episodes of acute bronchitis in a short period of time. Acute bronchitis refers to short-term lung inflammation that can affect anyone and is usually the result of a viral or bacterial infection.

Typically, doctors don’t diagnose chronic bronchitis unless you’ve had three or more episodes of bronchitis in one year.

If you’ve had recurrent bronchitis, your doctor may still perform a few tests to determine if you have COPD.

Tests used to diagnose chronic bronchitis include:

Imaging tests

As with emphysema, chest X-rays and CT scans can help your doctor get a better idea of what’s happening in your lungs.


Pulmonary function tests

These tests help your doctor check changes in lung function. A spirometer can measure lung capacity and airflow rate. This may help your doctor identify bronchitis.

Arterial blood gas test

This blood test helps your doctor assess the pH, oxygen, and carbon dioxide levels in your blood. This can help your doctor determine how well your lungs are working.

Can these symptoms be caused by another condition?

Several conditions can cause difficulty breathing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Depending on your individual symptoms, you may not be experiencing emphysema or chronic bronchitis at all.

In some cases, your symptoms may point to asthma. Asthma occurs when your airways become inflamed, narrow, and swell. This can make it difficult to breathe, especially when combined with excess mucus production.

In rare cases, you may actually be experiencing symptoms of:

  • heart problems
  • collapsed lung
  • lung cancer
  • pulmonary embolus

Additionally, it’s not uncommon for people to be diagnosed with both emphysema and chronic bronchitis at the same time. People who have chronic bronchitis may still experience bouts of acute bronchitis on top of their long-term bronchitis issues.


If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms for emphysema or chronic bronchitis, make an appointment to see your doctor.

If you are or were once a smoker, you are at higher risk for developing COPD. It’s important that you get a diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as you can.

Your doctor can determine if your symptoms are the result of emphysema, bronchitis, or another condition. Without treatment, these conditions may worsen and cause additional symptoms and complications.

Emphysema and bronchitis are both lifelong conditions. If you’re diagnosed with either condition, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan focused on symptom management.

If you smoke, quitting is the first step to treating your symptoms. Quitting won’t stop the symptoms, but it may help slow disease progression.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease that makes your lungs inflamed. That makes it harder to breathe and get the air you need. There are two conditions that contribute to COPD: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Both cause breathing problems, so it can be hard to tell them apart.
The main difference between these conditions is that chronic bronchitis produces a frequent cough with mucus. The main symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath. Emphysema can sometimes arise due to genetics. An inherited condition called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency can cause some cases of emphysema.
Symptoms. As both conditions affect the lungs, both chronic bronchitis and emphysema are marked by similar symptoms of shortness of breath and wheezing,1 but there are some differences, particularly in the late stages of the diseases.
Chronic bronchitis is a type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD is a group of lung diseases that make it hard to breathe and get worse over time. The other main type of COPD is emphysema.
The essential difference is that the treatment of asthma is driven by the need to suppress the chronic inflammation, whereas in COPD, treatment is driven by the need to reduce symptoms. The treatment algorithm is based on severity for both asthma and COPD.
Chest X-Ray Chest X-rays can help confirm a diagnosis of emphysema and rule out other lung conditions. Arterial Blood Gases Analysis These blood tests measure how well your lungs transfer oxygen to your bloodstream and remove carbon dioxide.
COPD is described as a chronic lung condition that worsens over time, and at one point may become emphysema or another similar ailment. Therefore, emphysema is one of many diseases that reside in the larger category of COPD.
People with chronic bronchitis are sometimes called “blue bloaters” because of their bluish-colored skin and lips. Blue bloaters often take deeper breaths but can’t take in the right amount of oxygen.
Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that is defined as a productive cough of more than 3 months occurring within a span of 2 years. Patients typically present with chronic productive cough, malaise, and symptoms of excessive coughing such as chest or abdominal pain.
The main symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath, which usually begins gradually. You may start avoiding activities that cause you to be short of breath, so the symptom doesn’t become a problem until it starts interfering with daily tasks. Emphysema eventually causes shortness of breath even while you’re at rest.
People with chronic bronchitis have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is a large group of lung diseases that includes chronic bronchitis. These diseases can block air flow in the lungs and cause breathing problems. The 2 most common conditions of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are both long-term lung conditions. They’re part of a disorder known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Because many people have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the umbrella term COPD is often used during diagnosis.
Both chronic bronchitis and emphysema often coexist. There is so much overlap of clinical, and physiological characteristics between the two disorders that the term COPD has persisted in the text books of medicine. Chronic bronchitis is the “hypersecretory” disorder, characterized by chronic cough and spit.
These are chronic bronchitis and emphysema. With chronic bronchitis, the irritated airways swell. The muscles that surround the airways may tighten. The damaged airways also make more mucus than normal.
Emphysema is included under COPD, but the two are not synonymous. For example, a patient can be diagnosed with COPD without having emphysema, and could instead be suffering from chronic bronchitis. With emphysema, your lungs are damaged beyond repair.
The primary symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath. It is a progressive complaint by affected individuals, worsening over time. Early in the disease, shortness of breath may occur with exercise and activity but symptoms gradually worsen and may occur at rest.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) causes changes in your lungs that affect your breathing. As a result, you may not get enough oxygen or use it fully. That can lead to hypoxia, which is when cells or tissues in your body don’t get as much oxygen as they need.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. It includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD makes breathing difficult for the 16 million Americans who have this disease.
One of the most common symptoms associated with COPD is cough, which can severely impact a person’s quality of life. A COPD-related cough is often productive, which means the person coughs up sputum or phlegm. However, some people with COPD may have a dry cough. This includes those who have COPD and asthma.
Crackling. Crackling , otherwise known as rales, describes a sound in the lungs that resembles a crackling or clicking sound when a person breathes in. According to one 2021 study, crackling sounds are common in COPD. There are two distinct types of crackling sounds detectable in the lungs: coarse and fine.
Many people will live into their 70s, 80s, or 90s with COPD.” But that’s more likely, he says, if your case is mild and you don’t have other health problems like heart disease or diabetes. Some people die earlier as a result of complications like pneumonia or respiratory failure.
There is no cure for emphysema, although it is treatable. Appropriate management can reduce symptoms, improve your quality of life and help you stay out of hospital.
In this study the signs of emphysema on CT scans were observed not only in about 96% of patients who met the functional criteria of emphysema (decreased diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (DLCO) and the presence of obstructive lung disease based on decreased forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1).

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