What physical findings might be indicative of a patient with emphysema? The diagnosis is made on patients that usually are long term smokers, and they complaint of dyspnea, cough, and mucus expectoration. Most patients seek medical attention late in the course of their disease, usually ignoring smoldering symptoms that start gradually and progress over the course of years. The cough typically is worse in the morning with finite production of clear-to-white sputum. Dyspnea, emphysema’s most significant symptom, does not generally occur until the sixth decade of life. However, patients with emphysema due to alpha 1 -antitrypsin deficit will exhibit the following characteristics: early presentation (< 45 y), predilection of emphysematous changes in the lung bases, and the panacinar morphological pattern.
Although the sensitivity of the physical evaluation in mild-to-moderate disease is relatively poor, the physical signs are quite sensitive and specific in severe disease. Patients with severe disease may experience tachypnea and dyspnea with mild exertion.
The respiratory rate increases in proportion to disease severity with the use of accessory respiratory muscles and paradoxical contraction of lower intercostal spaces becoming evident during exacerbations.
In end-stage emphysema, cyanosis, elevated jugular venous pressure, atrophy of limb musculature, and peripheral edema due to the development of pulmonary hypertension, right-to-left shunting, and/or right heart failure can easily be observed.Thoracic examination reveals a 2:1 increase in anterior to posterior diameter (“barrel chest”), diffuse or focal wheezing, diffusely diminished breath sounds, hyperresonance upon percussion, prolonged expiration, and/or hyperinflation on chest radiographs