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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Differential Diagnoses

  • Author: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP; Chief Editor: Ryland P Byrd, Jr, MD  more...
 
Updated: Jul 11, 2016
 
 

Diagnostic ConsiderationsCongestive heart failureBronchiectasisBronchiolitis obliteransChronic asthma

Congestive heart failure (CHF) may produce wheezing and often may be difficult to differentiate from emphysema. A history of orthopnea and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, fine basal crackles on chest auscultation, and typical findings on chest radiographs can lead to the diagnosis of CHF.

One crude bedside test for distinguishing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from CHF is peak expiratory flow. If patients blow 150-200 mL or less, they are probably having a COPD exacerbation; higher flows indicate a probable CHF exacerbation.

According to a prospective study in Slovenia by Prosen et al, heart failure–related acute dyspnea could be distinguished from pulmonary-related acute dyspnea in an emergency setting by the presence of a comet-tail sign on bedside lung ultrasonography. The absence of a comet-tail sign correctly ruled out heart failure–related dyspnea even in patients with a history of heart failure.[39]

Patients with bronchiectasis have chronic production of copious purulent sputum, coarse crackles and clubbing upon physical examination, and abnormal findings on chest radiographs and computed tomography (CT) scans.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is observed in younger persons who do not smoke and in persons with collagen-vascular diseases. A CT scan characteristically shows areas of mosaic attenuation without evidence of generalized emphysema.

The delayed onset of severe asthma may be difficult to distinguish from COPD in older patients, but the important distinction is a significant bronchodilator response and normal diffusion (ie, diffusing capacity of lung for carbon monoxide [DLCO]) on pulmonary function tests.

Differential Diagnoses

 
 
Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP Geri and Richard Brawerman Chair in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Professor and Executive Vice Chairman, Department of Medicine, Medical Director, Women's Guild Lung Institute, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine

Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Federation for Medical Research, American Thoracic Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Nader Kamangar, MD, FACP, FCCP, FCCM Professor of Clinical Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine; Chief, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Vice-Chair, Department of Medicine, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center

Nader Kamangar, MD, FACP, FCCP, FCCM is a member of the following medical societies: Academy of Persian Physicians, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Association for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Critical Care Medicine, American College of Physicians, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Thoracic Society, Association of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Program Directors, Association of Specialty Professors, California Sleep Society, California Thoracic Society, Clerkship Directors in Internal Medicine, Society of Critical Care Medicine, Trudeau Society of Los Angeles, World Association for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Nidhi S Nikhanj, MD Fellow, Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles

Nidhi S Nikhanj, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Annie Harrington, MD Fellow in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Annie Harrington, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Chest Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Ryland P Byrd, Jr, MD Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine, James H Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University

Ryland P Byrd, Jr, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Ryland P Byrd Jr, MD Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Pulmonary Medicine and Critical Care Medicine, Program Director of Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine Fellowship, East Tennessee State University, James H Quillen College of Medicine; Medical Director of Respiratory Therapy, James H Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Ryland P Byrd Jr, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Chest Physicians and American Thoracic Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Sat Sharma, MD, FRCPC Professor and Head, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Manitoba; Site Director, Respiratory Medicine, St Boniface General Hospital

Sat Sharma, MD, FRCPC is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American Thoracic Society, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Royal Society of Medicine, Society of Critical Care Medicine, and World Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

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Venn diagram of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic obstructive lung disease is a disorder in which subsets of patients may have dominant features of chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or asthma. The result is airflow obstruction that is not fully reversible.
Histopathology of chronic bronchitis showing hyperplasia of mucous glands and infiltration of the airway wall with inflammatory cells.
Histopathology of chronic bronchitis showing hyperplasia of mucous glands and infiltration of the airway wall with inflammatory cells (high-powered view).
Gross pathology of advanced emphysema. Large bullae are present on the surface of the lung.
Gross pathology of a patient with emphysema showing bullae on the surface.
At high magnification, loss of alveolar walls and dilatation of airspaces in emphysema can be seen.
Posteroanterior (PA) and lateral chest radiograph in a patient with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Hyperinflation, depressed diaphragm, increased retrosternal space, and hypovascularity of lung parenchyma are demonstrated.
A lung with emphysema shows increased anteroposterior (AP) diameter, increased retrosternal airspace, and flattened diaphragm on lateral chest radiograph.
A lung with emphysema shows increased anteroposterior (AP) diameter, increased retrosternal airspace, and flattened diaphragm on posteroanterior chest radiograph.
Severe bullous disease as seen on a computed tomography (CT) scan in a patient with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Pressure volume curve comparing lungs with emphysema, lungs with restrictive disease, and normal lungs.
Flow volume curve of a patient with emphysema shows marked decrease in expiratory flow, hyperinflation, and air trapping (patient B) compared with a patient with restrictive lung disease, who has reduced lung volumes and preserved flow (patient A).
Forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) can be used to evaluate the prognosis in patients with emphysema. The benefit of smoking cessation is shown here because the deterioration in lung function parallels that of a nonsmoker, even in late stages of the disease. Redrawn from Fletcher C, Peato R. The natural history of chronic airflow obstruction. Br Med J 1977; 1: 1645-1648.
Oxygen therapy via nasal cannula.
Home supplemental oxygen.
Bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP).
Pulmonary rehabilitation.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pulmonary rehabilitation.
Chest radiograph of an emphysematous patient shows hyperinflated lungs with reduced vascular markings. Pulmonary hila are prominent, suggesting some degree of pulmonary hypertension (Correa da Silva, 2001).
Schematic representation of another sign of emphysema on the lateral chest radiograph. When the retrosternal space (defined as the space between the posterior border of the sternum and the anterior wall of the mediastinum) is larger than 2.5 cm, it is highly suggestive of overinflated lungs. This radiograph is from a patient with pectus carinatum, an important differential diagnosis to consider when this space is measured (Correa da Silva, 2001).
Close-up image shows emphysematous bullae in the left upper lobe. Note the subpleural, thin-walled, cystlike appearance (Correa da Silva, 2001).
A, Frontal posteroanterior (PA) chest radiograph shows no abnormality of the pulmonary vasculature, with normal intercostal spaces and a diaphragmatic dome between the 6th and 7th anterior ribs on both sides. B, Image in a patient with emphysema demonstrating reduced pulmonary vasculature resulting in hyperlucent lungs. The intercostal spaces are mildly enlarged, and the diaphragmatic domes are straightened and below the extremity of the seventh rib (Correa da Silva, 2001).
A, Lateral radiograph of the chest shows normal pulmonary vasculature, a retrosternal space within normal limits (< 2.5 cm), and a normal angle between the diaphragm and the anterior thoracic wall. B, Lateral view of the chest shows increased pulmonary transparency, increased retrosternal space (>2.5 cm), and an angle between the thoracic wall and the diaphragm >90 degrees. Straightening of the diaphragm can be more evident in this projection than on others (Correa da Silva, 2001).
High-resolution CT (HRCT) in a patient after viral bronchiolitis obliterans demonstrates areas of airtrapping, which is predominant in the inferior lobes and associated with bronchiectasis in the left lower lobe. Note that the decreased attenuation caused by the airtrapping can simulate emphysema (Correa da Silva, 2001).
Pediatric high-resolution CT (HRCT) shows a hyperinflated right lung with large pulmonary bullae due to congenital lobar emphysema (Correa da Silva, 2001).
High-resolution CT (HRCT) demonstrates areas of centriacinar emphysema. Note the low attenuation areas without walls due to destruction of the alveoli septae centrally in the acini. Red element shows the size of a normal acinus (Correa da Silva, 2001).
High-resolution CT (HRCT) shows large bullae in both inferior lobes due to uniform enlargement and destruction of the alveoli walls causing distortion of the pulmonary architecture (Correa da Silva, 2001).
Panacinar emphysema of the left lung in a patient with a right lung transplant. Note the red element showing the size of a normal acinus and its discrepancy with the destroyed and enlarged airspaces of the left lower lobe (Correa da Silva, 2001).
High-resolution CT (HRCT) shows subpleural bullae consistent with paraseptal emphysema. Red mark shows the size of a normal acinus (Correa da Silva, 2001).
High-resolution CT (HRCT) shows enlarged air-spaces or bullae adjoining pulmonary scars, consistent with paracicatricial emphysema. Red mark shows the size of a normal acinus (Correa da Silva, 2001).
CT densitovolumetry of a nonsmoker, healthy young patient shows normal lungs. Less than 0.35% of lungs have attenuations below -950 HU (Correa da Silva, 2001).
Expiratory CT densitovolumetry shows no areas of airtrapping (Correa da Silva, 2001).
CT densitovolumetry in a patient with lung cancer. Three-dimensional (3D) image shows that the cancer is in the portion of the right lung that was less affected by emphysema in a patient with poor pulmonary function (Correa da Silva, 2001).
CT densitovolumetry shows the attenuation mask. Green areas are those with attenuation below the selected threshold (here, -950 HU to evaluate emphysema), and pink areas are those with attenuations above the threshold. Area outside the patient is highlighted in green because of air (Correa da Silva, 2001).
CT densitovolumetry demonstrates irregular distribution of the emphysema, with substantial predominance in the left lung (Correa da Silva, 2001).
 
 
 
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