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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Emphysema in Emergency Medicine Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Paul Kleinschmidt, MD; Chief Editor: Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP  more...
 
Updated: Jan 27, 2016
 

History

Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) present with a combination of signs and symptoms of chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Symptoms include worsening dyspnea, progressive exercise intolerance, and alteration in mental status. In addition, some important clinical and historical differences can exist between the types of COPD.

  • In the chronic bronchitis group, classic symptoms include the following:
    • Productive cough, with progression over time to intermittent dyspnea
    • Frequent and recurrent pulmonary infections
    • Progressive cardiac/respiratory failure over time, with edema and weight gain
  • In the emphysema group, the history is somewhat different and may include the following set of classic symptoms:
    • A long history of progressive dyspnea with late onset of nonproductive cough
    • Occasional mucopurulent relapses
    • Eventual cachexia and respiratory failure
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Physical

Depending on the type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), physical examination may vary.

  • Chronic bronchitis (blue bloaters)
    • Patients may be obese.
    • Frequent cough and expectoration are typical.
    • Use of accessory muscles of respiration is common.
    • Coarse rhonchi and wheezing may be heard on auscultation.
    • Patients may have signs of right heart failure (ie, cor pulmonale), such as edema and cyanosis.
    • Because they share many of the same physical signs, COPD may be difficult to distinguish from congestive heart failure (CHF). One crude bedside test for distinguishing 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.
  • Emphysema (pink puffers)
    • Patients may be very thin with a barrel chest.
    • They typically have little or no cough or expectoration.
    • Breathing may be assisted by pursed lips and use of accessory respiratory muscles; they may adopt the tripod sitting position.
    • The chest may be hyperresonant, and wheezing may be heard; heart sounds are very distant.
    • Overall appearance is more like classic COPD exacerbation.
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Causes

In general, the vast majority of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cases are the direct result of tobacco abuse.[3] While other causes are known, such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, cystic fibrosis, air pollution, occupational exposure (eg, firefighters), and bronchiectasis, this is a disease process that is somewhat unique in its direct correlation to a human activity.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Paul Kleinschmidt, MD Consulting Staff, Department of Emergency Medicine, Womack Army Medical Center

Paul Kleinschmidt, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Received ownership interest from ScrubCast, INC for other.

Specialty Editor Board

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

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Paul Blackburn, DO, FACOEP, FACEP Attending Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Maricopa Medical Center

Paul Blackburn, DO, FACOEP, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Arizona Medical Association, American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP Professor of Emergency Medicine, Professor of Internal Medicine, Program Director for Emergency Medicine, Case Medical Center, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Heart Association, American Thoracic Society, Arkansas Medical Society, New York Academy of Medicine, New York Academy of Sciences, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Histopathology of chronic bronchitis showing hyperplasia of mucous glands and infiltration of the airway wall with inflammatory cells.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Histopathology of chronic bronchitis showing hyperplasia of mucous glands and infiltration of the airway wall with inflammatory cells (high-powered view).
Posteroanterior (PA) and lateral chest radiograph in a patient with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Hyperinflation, depressed diaphragms, increased retrosternal space, and hypovascularity of lung parenchyma is demonstrated.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A lung with emphysema shows increased anteroposterior (AP) diameter, increased retrosternal airspace, and flattened diaphragms on lateral chest radiograph.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A lung with emphysema shows increased anteroposterior (AP) diameter, increased retrosternal airspace, and flattened diaphragms on posteroanterior chest radiograph.
Subcutaneous emphysema and pneumothorax.
 
 
 
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