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Pulmonary Fibrosis

Pulmonary Fibrosis Versus Emphysema



What is the defining difference between pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema? My mother was diagnosed with PF and myself with emphysema this past year. In all I’ve read, I cannot find the difference between the two.


Emphysema is characterized by damage to the tiny air sacs, called alveoli. When these air sacs are damaged, the walls break down and the sacs become larger and move less oxygen into the blood.

This process can get worse over time. Shortness of breath is often associated with this and also gets worse over time. These damaged air sacs do not grow back and cannot be replaced. The most common cause of emphysema is smoking.

Pulmonary fibrosis involves scarring, or fibrosis, in the lungs. This process causes air sacs and the supporting lung tissue to become stiff and thick. Fibrosis worsens over time and the lungs are not able to move oxygen into the blood stream. Shortness of breath and cough are common with fibrosis. In most cases, the cause of fibrosis is unknown.

The biggest difference between emphysema and fibrosis is the area of the lung involved. Emphysema destroys the air sacs or alveoli. Fibrosis can damage the air sacs and the surrounding tissue. Life expectancy with emphysema is longer than life expectancy with pulmonary fibrosis. 

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Response by:

Ruthann   Kennedy, CNP Ruthann Kennedy, CNP
Clinical Practice Manager of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University