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Pulmonary vs. Respiratory — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Fiza Rafique — Updated on November 3, 2023
Pulmonary pertains specifically to the lungs, whereas respiratory refers to the entire system involved in breathing.
Pulmonary vs. Respiratory — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Pulmonary and Respiratory


Key Differences

Pulmonary is a term that specifically describes anything related to the lungs. In medical jargon, it refers to the lung tissue itself, pulmonary circulation, and the associated gas exchange processes. The respiratory term encompasses a broader system, including the airways, lungs, and muscles that facilitate breathing.
The pulmonary function is a subset of the broader respiratory functions. Pulmonary relates to the lung's anatomy and pathology, such as in 'pulmonary fibrosis,' which specifically affects lung tissue. Respiratory function involves the integrated activities of the entire system, such as in 'respiratory failure,' where the whole system is compromised, potentially including pulmonary components.
While discussing pulmonary aspects, one might focus on diseases, conditions, or treatments that directly involve the lungs. Respiratory discussions may extend to aspects such as airway inflammation, breathing mechanics, and external factors like air quality that affect the whole system's function.
Physicians who specialize in lung diseases are known as pulmonologists, and they deal with pulmonary conditions. Conversely, respiratory therapy, a field focused on supporting and improving the function of the entire respiratory system, is not limited to the lungs but also involves therapeutic techniques to aid the entire process of respiration.
In summary, pulmonary aspects are exclusively about the lungs and their immediate functions. Respiratory topics have a broader reach, involving everything from the nose to the lung's alveoli, encompassing the entire process by which organisms take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.

Comparison Chart


Pertains only to the lungs.
Refers to the entire breathing system.

Medical Specialization

Pulmonology focuses on lung health.
Respiratory therapy addresses overall respiratory function.

Diseases and Conditions

Pulmonary embolism, pulmonary hypertension.
Respiratory arrest, respiratory tract infection.

Diagnostic Tests

Pulmonary function tests (PFTs).
Respiratory rate measurement, spirometry.

Treatment and Interventions

Lung surgery, bronchodilators for lung-specific conditions.
Ventilation, nebulizers affecting overall breathing.

Compare with Definitions


Pertaining to the lung's function.
Pulmonary ventilation is essential for gas exchange.


Involving the process of inhaling and exhaling.
Asthma is a common respiratory condition.


Referring to the branch of medicine dealing with lung disorders.
She specializes in pulmonary medicine.


Relating to the organs used for breathing.
Respiratory therapy helps patients breathe more easily.


Connected to the anatomy of the lungs.
Pulmonary lobes are divided by fissures.


Pertaining to the system that exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Smoking can damage the respiratory system.


Relating to the lungs.
The pulmonary arteries carry blood to the lungs.


Connected to the function or act of respiration.
Respiratory muscles include the diaphragm.


Involving the lung tissue or respiratory organs.
He received a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis.


Concerning the treatment of lung and airway diseases.
Respiratory infections require immediate attention.


Relating to the lungs
Pulmonary blood flow


Relating to or affecting respiration or the organs of respiration
Respiratory disease


Of, relating to, or affecting the lungs
Pulmonary tuberculosis.


Of, relating to, used in, or affecting respiration.


Having lungs or lunglike organs.


(relational) Relating to respiration or the organs of respiration; breathing.


(anatomy) Pertaining to, having, or affecting the lungs.


Of or pertaining to respiration; serving for respiration; as, the respiratory organs; respiratory nerves; the respiratory function; respiratory changes.


Of or pertaining to the lungs; affecting the lungs; pulmonic.


Pertaining to respiration;
Respiratory assistance




Relating to or affecting the lungs;
Pulmonary disease

Common Curiosities

What is a respiratory system?

The respiratory system includes all organs involved in breathing.

What's a respiratory therapist do?

A respiratory therapist treats and cares for patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders.

What does pulmonary mean?

Pulmonary refers to anything pertaining to the lungs.

Can pulmonary issues affect the respiratory system?

Yes, since the lungs are part of the respiratory system, pulmonary issues can impact overall respiratory function.

Are there preventive measures for pulmonary health?

Yes, quitting smoking and reducing exposure to pollutants can help maintain pulmonary health.

Are inhalers used for pulmonary or respiratory issues?

Inhalers are used to address pulmonary issues but affect the entire respiratory system.

What's the role of the diaphragm in the respiratory system?

The diaphragm is a muscle that plays a key role in the mechanics of breathing.

What are common pulmonary diseases?

Common pulmonary diseases include bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.

Is COPD a pulmonary or respiratory condition?

COPD is both a pulmonary and respiratory condition, as it affects lung tissue and overall breathing.

How does pulmonary circulation differ from systemic?

Pulmonary circulation moves blood between the heart and lungs, while systemic circulation moves blood through the rest of the body.

What's included in a respiratory assessment?

A respiratory assessment can include checking breathing rate, oxygen levels, and lung function tests.

What are signs of pulmonary distress?

Signs include shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest pain.

Do pulmonary specialists perform surgery?

Yes, pulmonologists may perform surgeries related to the lungs.

Can respiratory problems lead to heart issues?

Yes, chronic respiratory problems can lead to heart strain and related conditions.

Can allergies affect both pulmonary and respiratory health?

Yes, allergies can trigger responses like inflammation in both lungs and airways, affecting pulmonary and respiratory health.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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