Combined pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema (CPFE) has been increasingly recognized over the past 10–15 years as a clinical entity characterized by rather severe imaging and gas exchange abnormalities, but often only mild impairment in spirometric and lung volume indices. In this review, we explore the gas exchange and mechanical pathophysiologic abnormalities of pulmonary emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, and combined emphysema and fibrosis with the goal of understanding how individual pathophysiologic observations in emphysema and fibrosis alone may impact clinical observations on pulmonary function testing (PFT) patterns in patients with CPFE. Lung elastance and lung compliance in patients with CPFE are likely intermediate between those of patients with emphysema and fibrosis alone, suggesting a counter-balancing effect of each individual process. The outcome of combined emphysema and fibrosis results in higher lung volumes overall on PFTs compared to patients with pulmonary fibrosis alone, and the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1
)/forced vital capacity (FVC) ratio in CPFE patients is generally preserved despite the presence of emphysema on chest computed tomography (CT) imaging. Conversely, there appears to be an additive deleterious effect on gas exchange properties of the lungs, reflecting a loss of normally functioning alveolar capillary units and effective surface area available for gas exchange, and manifested by a uniformly observed severe reduction in the diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (DL
CO). Despite normal or only mildly impaired spirometric and lung volume indices, patients with CPFE are often severely functionally impaired with an overall rather poor prognosis. As chest CT imaging continues to be a frequent imaging modality in patients with cardiopulmonary disease, we expect that patients with a combination of pulmonary emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis will continue to be observed. Understanding the pathophysiology of this combined process and the abnormalities that manifest on PFT testing will likely be helpful to clinicians involved with the care of patients with CPFE.
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