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Obstructive and Restrictive Lung Disease: Your Complete Guide

Obstructive and Restrictive Lung Disease: Everything You Need to Know

There are two major types of chronic lung disease. They are called obstructive lung disease and restrictive lung disease. For example, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an obstructive lung disease. Pulmonary fibrosis is an example of a restrictive lung disease. Obstructive and restrictive lung diseases share some common symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fatigue and coughing. However, they are different types of lung disease. Here is your complete guide to obstructive and restrictive lung disease to better inform you on your condition and allow you to be more proactive in your healthcare.

How are Obstructive and Restrictive Lung Disease Diagnosed?

Measurements from a pulmonary function test (PFT) help doctors diagnose obstructive and restrictive lung disease. Pulmonary function tests measure how well your lungs are working. Your doctor may recommend a pulmonary function test if your doctor suspects a chronic lung disease. Doctors use pulmonary function tests to diagnose lung disease, monitor the condition and develop a treatment plan.

What is an Obstructive Lung Disease?

People with obstructive lung disease have shortness of breath because they are not able to fully exhale all the air from their lungs. The air moves out of their lungs at a slower rate than that of a healthy person. Inflammation and swelling narrow the airways, making it difficult to expel air from the lungs. Essentially, air becomes trapped within the lungs. This is also known as increased residual volume. Increased residual volume leads to air becoming trapped in the lungs and to hyperinflation of the lungs.

Types of Obstructive Lung Disease

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Bronchiectasis

Obstructive Lung Disease Symptoms

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Chronic Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Production of Excess Mucus
  • Chest Tightness
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent Respiratory Infections

What are the Obstructive Lung Disease Stages and Life Expectancy?

Knowing your stage of obstructive lung disease helps you and your doctor understand the severity of your condition and develop a treatment plan. Typically, doctors and researchers categorize obstructive lung diseases, such as COPD, into stages. The stages range from mild to very severe. There are two common staging systems for COPD and other obstructive lung diseases. They are called the GOLD System and the BODE Index. These stages are a way to measure disease severity, understand overall prognosis and approximate life expectancy.

GOLD System

The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) developed the GOLD System. GOLD uses the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) test from a pulmonary function test to categorize COPD. FEV1 shows the amount of air a person can forcefully exhale in one second. People with obstructive lung disease have trouble exhaling all the air from their lungs, making breathing difficult. Airflow becomes more limited with each stage.

Very Mild COPD or Stage 1: FEV1 about 80 percent or more of normal.


Moderate COPD or Stage 2: FEV1 between 50 and 80 percent of normal.


Severe COPD or Stage 3: Severe emphysema with FEV1 between 30 and 50 percent of normal.


Very Severe COPD or Stage 4:  A lower FEV1 than Stage 3, or those with Stage 3 FEV1 and low blood oxygen levels.

BODE Index

Other scientists developed the BODE Index. The BODE Index accounts for how COPD affects your life. BODE stands for body mass, obstruction of airflow, dyspnea and exercise capacity.

  • Body Mass
  • Obstruction of Airflow
  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
  • Exercise Capacity

Body mass index (BMI) helps determine if you’re a healthy weight, underweight, overweight or obese. Obstruction of airflow shows the amount of airflow obstruction measured by your FEV1. Dyspnea simply means difficulty breathing. Exercise capacity refers to exercise tolerance.  A 6-minute walk test measures exercise tolerance. It also shows the distance you can walk in 6 minutes and evaluates your level of exercise tolerance. The combined measurements make up the BODE Index.

Like the GOLD System, the BODE Index helps place COPD into stages and aids in approximating life expectancy. BODE Index calculators are available to help doctors and patients better estimate disease severity as well.

Obstructive lung diseases affect everyone differently. However, obstructive lung diseases, such as COPD and emphysema, are progressive, meaning they will worsen over time. This makes assessing life expectancy challenging, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about any questions or concerns you have.

Obstructive Lung Disease Treatments

For best results, doctors individualize treatments for each person. Traditional treatments include a variety of medications, inhalers, steroids and anti-inflammatories.

Bronchodilators are a common treatment and are used to relax the airways. This helps the airways stay open. Bronchodilators are taken through an inhaler, so the medicine goes straight to your lungs. There are short-acting and long-acting forms of bronchodilators. Short-acting bronchodilators work quickly while long-acting bronchodilators provide longer-lasting relief.

There are two types of bronchodilators: beta-agonists and anticholinergics. Beta-agonists work to relax tightened muscles in the airways. Anticholinergics help prevent the muscles around the airways from tightening, and they can help clear mucus from your lungs.

Combination inhalers are another common treatment. They combine two different medications into the same inhaler. For example, some combination inhalers combine bronchodilators and inhaled steroids.

Oral steroids may help reduce inflammation. Antibiotics help treat infections.

Natural treatments can help manage obstructive lung disease symptoms as well. These may include herbs, dietary supplements, complementary medicine lifestyle modifications and cellular therapy. These natural treatments can help you stay healthy and avoid flare-ups.

What is a Restrictive Lung Disease?

People with restrictive lung disease cannot fully fill their lungs with air and cannot fully expand their lungs. This makes it difficult to take a full breath. Often, restrictive lung disease results from a condition causing stiffness in the lungs themselves.

Types of Restrictive Lung Disease

Restrictive lung diseases are categorized as intrinsic and extrinsic. Certain types of restrictive lung disease called intrinsic restrictive lung disorders have lung problems coming from within the lungs themselves. Simply put, intrinsic restrictive lung disorders cause restriction of the lungs and lung problems from inside the lungs. Intrinsic restrictive lung diseases include:

  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Pneumoconiosis

Sometimes, restriction is caused by weak muscles, stiffness in the chest wall or damaged nerves and are known as extrinsic restrictive lung disorders. This means that the restriction and lung problems originate from outside of the lungs. The lungs are affected from something besides having a disease within the lungs. This means that other diseases cause problems for the lungs from something outside the lungs. Extrinsic restrictive lung disorders include:

  • Obesity
  • Pleural Effusion
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Scoliosis
  • Neuromuscular disease, such as muscular dystrophy or Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)

Restrictive Lung Disease Symptoms

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Dry Cough
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Weight Loss
  • Achy Joints

What are the Restrictive Lung Disease Stages and Life Expectancy?

Traditionally, the restrictive lung disease stages are termed mild, moderate, severe, early and advanced. Doctors categorize the condition based on the results from a pulmonary function test. Restrictive lung disease affects everyone differently. However, many forms of restrictive lung disease, such as interstitial lung disease and pulmonary fibrosis, are progressive and will worsen over time. Life expectancy depends on a variety of factors based on each individual person, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about your questions and concerns.

Restrictive lung disease is characterized by reduced total lung capacity (TLC). Total lung capacity represents the amount of air present in the lungs after taking the deepest breath possible. A pulmonary function test determines total lung capacity. Knowing the total lung capacity of someone with restrictive lung disease is important to confirm lung restriction and to measure the degree of restriction.

In fact, there are new developments in the restrictive lung disease stages. Doctors and researchers have been working on a more sophisticated staging system, called the GAP Index.

GAP Index

The GAP Index has four predictors. These predictors are age, recent respiratory hospitalization, baseline forced vital capacity or FVC and 24-week change in FVC. The sum of the individual scores for each factor are used to obtain a score.

Doctors and researchers continue to improve the GAP Index, using a multidimensional risk prediction model and staging system. This GAP Index model has four baseline variables. The variables are gender, age and two lung physiology variables (FVC and diffusing capacity of carbon monoxide). Most of all, this research helped them create a GAP Index calculator for doctors and patients to better understand disease severity.

Restrictive Lung Disease Treatments

Many types of restrictive lung diseases are progressive, meaning they will worsen over time. However, treatments are available and vary depending on the patient’s individual needs.

For example, Esbriet and Ofev are two FDA-approved medications that may be used to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which is a type of restrictive lung disease. However, there are other types of treatments, too.

Many people with restrictive lung disease take medications that work to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. These medications include corticosteroids, azathioprine, cyclophosamide and methotrexate.

Oxygen therapy helps maintain blood oxygen levels for people with low blood oxygen levels. Doctors may recommend lung transplantation surgery in cases of severe or end-stage restrictive lung disease.

For people with certain types of restrictive lung disease, such as pulmonary fibrosis, interstitial lung disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis or pneumoconiosis, cellular therapy is available. Cellular therapy works to promote healing from within the lungs, potentially improving lung function and quality of life. In fact, cellular therapy is a treatment option for both obstructive and restrictive lung disease.

What are the Differences between Obstructive Lung Disease and Restrictive Lung Disease?

Obstructive and restrictive lung diseases are two different types of lung disease. Obstructive lung disease makes it difficult to fully exhale all the air from your lungs. They are obstructed from taking in more air. People with obstructive lung disease typically produce excess mucus, causing a smoker’s cough. FEV1 is an important measurement used to diagnose and categorize obstructive lung disease.

Restrictive lung disease makes it difficult to fill the lungs with air. They are restricted from taking a full breath. People with restrictive lung disease have a dry cough, which may produce some white sputum. FVC and TLC are important measurements used to diagnose and categorize restrictive lung disease.

While obstructive and restrictive lung disease both have staging systems, they use different measurements to place the condition into a stage. For some people, their condition progresses rapidly, and for others, it progresses slowly. Both obstructive and restrictive lung disease are progressive conditions and will worsen over time.

Use this complete guide to obstructive and restrictive lung disease as a resource. Remember, having the information you need helps you stay proactive in your healthcare, so feel free to discuss it with your doctor.

As always, we’re here to answer your questions about cellular therapy as a treatment option for obstructive and restrictive lung disease. If you or someone you love has an obstructive and restrictive lung disease like COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, emphysema or interstitial lung disease, feel free to contact us at (800) 729-3065 to learn more about cellular therapy options.


  1. Lung Institute

    3 months ago


    Thank you for your comment and question. Unfortunately, our treatments are only for someone who has been diagnosed with a lung disease.


    The Lung Institute

  2. Robyn Rk Kingsfield

    3 months ago

    I am age 72, female. I was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 7 and fibromyalgia at age 48. I have experienced chronic fatigue and severe shortness of breath on minor exertion for 20 plus years. Back pain is severe. Doctors basically ignore my symptoms and just prescribe inhalers such as elvesco and salbutomol…these have little to no effect on my mobility and quality of life…any suggestions?

  3. Lung Institute

    6 months ago

    Thank you for your question. We would suggest you contact one of our patient coordinators with your question. They are dealing with patients on a daily basis and may have information on muscular neuropathy.
    It is common in patients with COPD to have multiple sources of pain, including neuropathic, muscle, inflammatory, and mechanical or compressive.

    We’re happy to answer your questions about cellular therapy for chronic lung diseases. We have a dedicated medical team who have a wealth of knowledge about cellular therapy, treatment options, candidacy, cost and more. So, feel free to give us a call at (855) 313-1149. We look forward to hearing from you soon.


    The Lung Institute

  4. Rod

    6 months ago

    HAve you experienced cases where patients are experiencing muscular neurothapy leading to those symptoms described in this article.?

  5. M R

    1 year ago

    Hello Mary,
    Thank you for your post. We’re sorry to hear you’re having a hard time. Here at the Lung Institute, we specialize in cell therapy for chronic lung disease such as COPD and pulmonary fibrosis. If you’re interested in learning more, please give us a call at (855) 313-1149. Thanks again and have a great day.

  6. Mary Rutten

    1 year ago

    In October 2015 I took a fall backwards landing on my tailbone and then slamming back of my head into the cement. I am 69 years old female. This fall has chafed my life. Not because of the concussion but because since that time I have unilateral phrenic nerve paralysis. This has resulted in PFT test showing severe restrictive air flow. My first Pft test was in 2011 before the fall. According to test results there is a significant difference between the 2011 and 2015 test. In 2015 I was given an albuterol treatment with repeat in spirometry. There was 20% improvement. Since that time I have been on 3 different corticosteroid inhalers and more recently also singular. Also have albuterol rescue inhaler. With follow up visits since 2015 my PFT have not changed. There has. been no improvement with the meds. I continue to be short of breathe with exertion and I get light headed during that time. Keep in mind to previous to my fall in October 2015, I did not have these issues and had never been told I had asthma. This past week I have had a bronchoscopy the was normal except for my vocal cords which show marked inflammation (redness) with Petechiae. Since being on the inhalers I have been horse , voice change and it gets more irritated when I talk. Pulmonary docto says it is most likely GERD. I questioned if it good be from the inhalers but she said no. I did previously have GERD but back in 2012 I had bariatric surgery and have lost over 100 pounds. Since that time I’ve had no problems with acid reflex. The pulmonologist has said that with unilateral phrenic nerve paralysis you don’t have the kind of shortness of breath that I am helping and the pulmonary function test with the results they are seeing. I am feeling very frustrated. Besides a bronchoscopy the other day they also did a CT scan of Of my lungs and that too was normal except for showing the diaphragm on my Loveside not worth supposed to be and also having some atelectasis in that lower lung. I questioned the asthma since I have restrictive pulmonary issues and asthma is obstructive But she told me you could see restrictive or obstructive with asthma. Just going by what she told me. I really do not feel I have asthma and I also feel that the information around my vocal chords is the result of the inhalers. I am stopping the inhalers to see if there is an improvement in my throat or vocal chords and I will also go off the singular. I am decreasing that at a slower rate. She also wants me to see my bariatric surgeon about a possible scope to check for acid reflex. However I have no symptoms of it. Today instead of taking my in My inhalers I started to gargle with warm salt water to see if that would help with inflammation. I would like to also add I was born in 1948 and in the early 50s I’m not sure exactly when I was an infant I had polio. I do not remember this all I know is what I was told by my mom. She said that I became very ill and stiff that I could not move my limbs. She said I was like a board that when you lifted me I just didn’t bend. I was put into the hospital in isolation and nobody can come in without being totally gowned up. All the kids in my neighborhood she said were quarantined to their houses or homes. I did recover however I have never had really strong muscles even with exercise and Very tight muscles in the backs of my legs then I was never able to get a good stretch. So I have also questioned whether some of my lung problems could be associated with Post polio syndrome. I do get cold very easily but I live in the Midwest and have to dress in layers to stay warm. Since all of this started I get exhausted Easily. Many years ago when I was working, and I’ve been in the medical field since I was 20, and have worked as A medical technologist. In one of the clerks I worked in they were going to start to do spirometry. So the girl that was going to do them was practicing on the employees in the clinic and I was one of them. I did not pass my test and she kept asking me if I was having any breathing difficulties and I said no I was fine. Since she was just learning this We did not make a big deal out of it. I also know that after I’ve had surgery and And they give you the breathing machine or apparatus to breathe into so you do not get pneumonia I was never very good at that either. I could never get the little indicator up to the Mark they wanted me to get it. However during this time I never really experience shortness of breath to the extent I do now. I was always very active, exercised, walked, downhill skied, I skated, roller skated and all kinds of activities. This is all very difficult because we can’t figure out what is going on and why along with the fact that I just get so short of breath when I walk, go upstairs, get dressed or take a shower. I’ve tried to tell the doctor that before October 2015 everything was fine and after that date everything changed. That is the day I believe I injured my phrenic nerve when I fell. I don’t know if you have any advice or can help me at all. Please let me know

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