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Emphysema, “Barrel” Chest, and Arterial Gases

“Barrel” Chest Configuration

Emphysema is a condition where the lung tissue is destroyed or severely damaged due to smoking or atmosphere pollution. It is characterized by individuals having trouble breathing and experiencing shortness of breath (Singh et al., 2016). It is also one of the main types of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Patients with emphysema may have a “barrel” chest configuration, which is characterized by the increasing space between one’s chest and back. This formation resembles a barrel as the distance between the sides of the body and the front and the back of the body becomes less distinct. This configuration may appear as a result of obstructed breathing which is the main issue of patients with emphysema. Blocked airways do not let the air pass freely, and damaged lungs become enlarged with the pressure from the trapped air (Davey et al., 2015). Thus, one’s chest expands to accommodate the lungs and the “barrel” chest formation appears.

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Arterial Gases

The main issue of emphysema is the inability of the lungs to exchange gases and remove them out of the alveoli (Davey et al., 2015). Therefore, the test of arterial gases would likely be abnormal for the patient with evident symptoms of emphysema and a long history of smoking. The test measures the way gases leave the blood during breathing. Therefore, abnormal results can be expected in patients with emphysema due to their system being unable to remove carbon dioxide without complications (Singh et al., 2016). Moreover, it is likely that the body does not receive enough oxygen, which will also be reflected in the test. An imbalance in test results may show the signs of emphysema, which the patient has. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that CH’s results will be abnormal. In fact, the patient is more likely to have a low amount of oxygen and a low pH, which means that the blood is acidic. The patient’s lungs do not have enough ventilation to clear out the gases adequately, leaving no space for oxygen.

Emphysema: Possible Complications

Emphysema may lead to many complications. First of all, the respiratory system of a patient with emphysema suffers significantly due to the continuously deteriorating lung tissue (Davey et al., 2015). Thus, such issues as giant bullae and a collapsed lung may occur in patients who do not attempt to maintain their health. The first one is a process of large holes appearing in the patient’s lungs. These holes limit the ability of the lung to expand and may lead to its infection. Pneumonia may be one of the infectious diseases that can occur in a patient with emphysema. A collapsed lung may also be caused by bullae and already damaged tissue. Emphysema can progress and affect the lungs more severely after some time, raising the possibility of these complications.

Other complications may include conditions that are not directly connected to the respiratory system. The lack of oxygen affects all organs of one’s body and damages its overall health. For instance, some patients with emphysema may develop heart problems due to low levels of oxygen and enlarged lungs. The heart may be strained by the process of pumping blood and wear out quicker. Moreover, this disease also affects people’s arteries depriving them of oxygen and putting more pressure on them as a result (Singh et al., 2016). Patients that do not treat emphysema and have heart complications may have heart failure. The bone structure may also suffer because of emphysema and medications that can be used to treat it (Jaramillo et al., 2015). Furthermore, patients may feel exhausted due to their constant shortness of breath. They may not get enough sleep, which also leads to a series of possible complications.


Davey, C., Zoumot, Z., Jordan, S., McNulty, W. H., Carr, D. H., Hind, M. D.,… Shah, P. L. (2015). Bronchoscopic lung volume reduction with endobronchial valves for patients with heterogeneous emphysema and intact interlobar fissures (the BeLieVeR-HIFi study): A randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 386(9998), 1066-1073.

Jaramillo, J. D., Wilson, C., Stinson, D. J., Lynch, D. A., Bowler, R. P., Lutz, S.,… Wan, E. S. (2015). Reduced bone density and vertebral fractures in smokers. Men and COPD patients at increased risk. Annals of the American Thoracic Society, 12(5), 648-656.

Singh, A., Kumar, S., Mishra, A. K., Kumar, M., Kant, S., Verma, S. K.,… Garg, R. (2016). Correlation between clinical characteristics, spirometric indices and high resolution computed tomography findings in patients of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Lung India: Official Organ of Indian Chest Society, 33(1), 42-48.

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