Patho Patho #59


What is the pathophysiology of emphysema?


  1. 1. Destruction of the tiny air sacs called alveoli causing them to lose their elasticity.
    • Rationale:

      This answer is correct because emphysema causes irreversible damage to the alveoli which results in their loss of elastic recoil.

  2. 2. A genetically inherited lack of surfactant which causes the lungs to become inelastic and prevents gas exchange.
    • Rationale:

      This answer choice is not correct because emphysema is not caused by a genetic lack of surfactant. The patho behind emphysema is a loss of elastic recoil within the alveoli.

  3. 3. Reversible exposure to a chemical irritant that permanently damages the bronchioles.
    • Rationale:

      This answer choice is not correct because emphysema results from irreversible damage to the alveoli, not reversible changes to the bronchioles.

  4. 4. A long-term productive cough caused by damage to the mucus-producing cells which line the lungs
    • Rationale:

      This answer choice is not correct because overproduction of mucus causing a productive cough describes the patho of bronchitis, not emphysema.


The focus of this question is asking the nurse to identify the underlying pathophysiological process responsible for the development of emphysema. As emphysema progresses, the alveoli are slowly destroyed due to long standing and damaging inflammatory processes. Destruction of the alveoli causes them to lose elasticity which is the most important underlying pathophysiological change that leads to the symptoms of emphysema.


Learning Outcomes

Emphysema is a chronic respiratory illness usually caused by long term cigarette smoking and, less commonly, a deficiency of an important protective protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin. Over long periods of time, exposure to cigarette smoke causes chronic inflammation within the alveoli which is damaging to the lower airways. Eventually, the alveoli lose their elasticity which leads to air trapping and the other manifestations of emphysema.

Test Taking Tip

When learning the underlying pathophysiology of disease processes, it is helpful to draw out how each cellular process leads to the next eventually ending with the development of the disease process.

Video Rationale