Hyperinflation of the lungs: symptoms, causes, diagnosis and


Lung hyperinflation (also known as lung hyperinflation) occurs when an increase in lung volume interferes with efficient airflow in the body. Essentially, air is trapped through a blockage in the airways or damage to the alveoli, causing the lungs to trap air. It can occur with lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) , asthma, cystic fibrosis, and bronchiectasis. In addition to shortness of breath, this condition can also lead to heart disease.

The diagnosis of pulmonary hyperinflation includes imaging studies and may also include respiratory and cardiac function tests. Medications can help alleviate the effects and, in severe cases, surgery (lung volume reduction) may be used.

Laura Porter / Get Medication Information


Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish the effects of pulmonary hyperinflation from the symptoms of the underlying lung disease.

If you have lung hyperinflation, you may experience:

  • Labored breathing
  • Breathing hard
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Low energy

Exercise intolerance is very common with lung hyperinflation. You may feel out of breath or unusually exhausted during or after physical activity, whether it's walking around the area or even cleaning the house.

When lung hyperinflation is mild or just beginning to develop, symptoms can only be seen during physical activity or exercise.


The biggest concern about lung hyperinflation is that it affects the heart over time. One of the most common consequences is a decrease in blood volume in the left ventricle of the heart. When this happens, the heart pumps less oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, leading to exhaustion and fatigue. It also contracts the heart and can increase the risk of heart failure .


With each inhale and exhale, your lungs inflate and deflate. But in the case of hyperinflation, the lungs enlarge more than they should with each breath. With each exhalation, the lungs do not deflate as much as they should.

Thus, the dilated lungs become larger than the healthy ones, but there is not enough room for all this air.

People with COPD can develop dynamic lung hyperinflation, static lung hyperinflation, or a combination of both.


A person with pulmonary hyperinflation may have an enlarged chest diameter or "barrel-shaped chest." Your healthcare provider may notice that your breathing coincides with lung hyperinflation when listening to a stethoscope exam of your chest, but other changes caused by your underlying lung disease are likely to be more noticeable.

Due to the nonspecific nature of the symptoms, pulmonary hyperinflation can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. Some studies have shown that up to 19.8% of people with COPD are initially misdiagnosed by the treating physician and require a pulmonary specialist to make the correct diagnosis.

Lung hyperinflation is usually detected by imaging tests, and the condition can be detected early or late. Complications of pulmonary hyperinflation can be evaluated by tests such as an echocardiogram , which is a test of heart function.

Visual tests

Hyperinflated lungs can be identified on a chest x-ray, as well as a chest computed tomography (CT) scan. The radiologist will most likely take pictures of inhalation and exhalation.

However, this condition is often discovered by chance, which means that the lung hyperinflation was seen on the pictures for a different reason.

Respiratory tests

Your healthcare team can measure your air volume using lung function tests. Inhale and exhale during this process, and the machine measures your air volume.

Heart evaluation

Because lung hyperinflation can cause heart failure, your healthcare provider may also order some heart tests, especially if you have symptoms of heart disease.

An echocardiogram is a non-invasive ultrasound of the heart that can be used to visualize the movements of your heart. It evaluates the work of the heart, measures the volume of blood that passes through the chambers of the heart, and can detect signs of heart failure.

Watch out

There are several treatments for lung hyperinflation. Medicines can help keep your airways clear. Lung volume reduction surgery is another approach that is possible in some cases.


Medications used to dilate the bronchi can help reduce lung hyperinflation. Long-acting bronchodilators dilate the bronchial tubes for a long period of time. These medications can help improve the effects of lung hyperinflation.

Bronchodilators reduce the effects of dynamic hyperventilation because the expansion of the bronchial tubes allows air to escape from the lungs.

Lung volume reduction surgery

In the lungs, areas with severe lung disease are ineffective in terms of oxygen metabolism. They take up space by compressing the healthy tissue of the lungs and the airways within them.

Surgical removal of unhealthy lung tissue, called lung volume reduction surgery, aims to alleviate this burden. This allows healthy areas of the lung to have space and can promote the growth of healthy tissue.

In general, lung volume reduction surgery is not considered a viable option for extensive lung damage. It is usually used when the lung is localized or unilateral (affects only one lung) .

Frequently asked questions

Are there breathing techniques that can help you exercise for lung hyperinflation?

Yes, pursed lip breathing is a technique that improves resting oxygen saturation in people with COPD. A small study found that it also improves exercise tolerance and endurance in people with COPD. This method helps reduce dynamic hyperinflation.

At what stage of COPD does lung hyperinflation usually occur?

Pulmonary hyperinflation can be present in any stage of COPD, even in the mildest cases, but it tends to increase in severity in later stages. Research has shown that dynamic hyperinflation is present in all stages of COPD, even if hyperinflation at rest is absent in milder forms of COPD.

Get the word of drug information

Lung hyperinflation is one of the most common consequences of chronic lung disease. Enlarged lungs interfere with efficient oxygen exchange. Heart complications can develop over time. If you have chronic lung disease, your healthcare team will likely look for signs of lung hyperinflation on diagnostic tests. Make sure to avoid aggravating factors like smoking and exposure to pollutants.

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