Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Font Size

Obstructive and Restrictive Lung Disease

Doctors may classify lung conditions as obstructive lung disease or restrictive lung disease. Obstructive lung diseases include conditions that make it hard to exhale all the air in the lungs. People with restrictive lung disease have difficulty fully expanding their lungs with air.

Obstructive and restrictive lung disease share the same main symptom: shortness of breath with exertion.

Recommended Related to Lung Disease/Respiratory Problems

Understanding Bronchitis -- Diagnosis and Treatment

Tests are usually unnecessary in the case of acute bronchitis, as the disease is usually easy to detect through your description of symptoms and a physical exam. The doctor will simply use a stethoscope to listen for the rattling sound in your lungs' upper airways that typically accompanies the problem. In cases of chronic bronchitis, the doctor will likely get an X-ray of your chest to check the extent of the lung damage, as well as pulmonary function tests to measure how well your lungs are working...

Read the Understanding Bronchitis -- Diagnosis and Treatment article > >

What Is Obstructive Lung Disease?

People with obstructive lung disease have shortness of breath due to difficulty exhaling all the air from the lungs. Because of damage to the lungs or narrowing of the airways inside the lungs, exhaled air comes out more slowly than normal. At the end of a full exhalation, an abnormally high amount of air may still linger in the lungs.

The most common causes of obstructive lung disease are:

Obstructive lung disease makes it harder to breathe, especially during increased activity or exertion. As the rate of breathing increases, there is less time to breathe all the air out before the next inhalation.

What Is Restrictive Lung Disease?

People with restrictive lung disease cannot fully fill their lungs with air. Their lungs are restricted from fully expanding.

Restrictive lung disease most often results from a condition causing stiffness in the lungs themselves. In other cases, stiffness of the chest wall, weak muscles, or damaged nerves may cause the restriction in lung expansion.

Some conditions causing restrictive lung disease are:


Diagnosis of Obstructive Lung Disease and Restrictive Lung Disease

Most commonly, people with obstructive or restrictive lung disease seek a doctor because they feel short of breath.

Restrictive and obstructive lung diseases are identified using pulmonary function tests. In pulmonary function testing, a person blows air forcefully through a mouthpiece. As the person performs various breathing maneuvers, a machine records the volume and flow of air through the lungs. Pulmonary function testing can identify the presence of obstructive lung disease or restrictive lung disease, as well as their severity.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

Today on WebMD

man coughing
You may not even know you have it.
blood clot
Signs of this potentially fatal complication.
man coughing
When a cold becomes bronchitis.
human lungs
Causes behind painful breathing, fluid buildup.

chest x-ray
Bronchitis Overview
Copd Myth Fact Quiz
Energy Boosting Foods

woman coughing
Lung xray and caduceus