The official blog of the Lung Institute.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you probably have lots of questions about your COPD diagnosis and treatment. Because COPD and other chronic lung diseases are chronic and progressive, the disease worsens over time. Finding the right COPD treatment plan is essential to maintaining and improving your quality of life. Here are a few facts about what you can expect with your COPD diagnosis and treatment to help you stay informed and proactive in your healthcare.
What will your doctor want to know to help make a COPD diagnosis and treatment plan?
Your doctor will want to know if you:
- Have a history of smoking
- Have been exposed to secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes or dust
- Experience shortness of breath, chronic cough or lots of mucus
- Have family members who have had COPD
What is a COPD diagnosis?
COPD is characterized by the restriction of airflow into and out of the lungs, making breathing difficult. Many people with COPD have trouble walking short distances and are susceptible to illnesses such as pneumonia. The term COPD also encompasses emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The causes of COPD include smoking, having the alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and long-term exposure to inhaled pollutants. The severity of symptoms ranges from mild to severe and include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, recurrent infections and more.
How does the doctor diagnose COPD?
In the process of diagnosing COPD, a doctor will ask about the patient’s symptoms and medical history, do a physical exam and conduct breathing tests. The most common breathing test used to verify a COPD diagnosis is spirometry. A pulmonary function test, such as the spirometry test, is a common office test that is used to assess how well your lungs are working by measuring how much air you inhale and exhale, and how quickly you exhale. The spirometry is used to diagnose asthma, COPD and other diseases that affect breathing. This simple and painless test involves breathing into a large hose connected to a spirometer, a machine that measures how much air your lungs hold and how fast you can blow as much of the air out of your lungs as possible.
What can you expect for a spirometry test?
According to the National Library of Health, in a seated spirometry test, you breathe into a mouthpiece that is connected to an instrument called a spirometer. The spirometer records the amount and the rate of air that you breathe in and out over a period of time. The most important issue is to perform the test always while in the same position.
Before you do a spirometry test, a nurse, a technician or your doctor will give you specific instructions. Listen carefully and ask questions if something is not clear. Doing the test correctly is necessary for accurate and meaningful results.
For some of the test measurements, you can breathe normally. Other tests require forced inhalation or exhalation after a deep breath. Sometimes you will be asked to inhale a substance or a medicine to see how it changes your test results. The entire process takes less than 15 minutes to perform.
What do the results mean for COPD diagnosis and treatment?
The spirometry test will provide you with a number of values that your doctor will explain. These values are based upon your age, height, ethnicity and gender. All results are displayed as a percentage. Any value that is listed under 80 percent is considered abnormal and may indicate signs of a lung disease.
In a post from the Mayo Clinic, key measurements from a spirometry test will include:
- Forced vital capacity (FVC): This is the largest amount of air that you can forcefully exhale after breathing in as deeply as you can. A lower than normal FVC reading indicates restricted breathing.
- Forced expiratory volume (FEV-1): This is how much air you can force from your lungs in one second. This reading helps your doctor assess the severity of your breathing problems. Lower FEV-1 readings indicate more significant obstruction.
Some lung diseases (such as emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis and infections) can make the lungs contain too much air and take longer to empty. This test will help determine if you are suffering from any of these conditions.
COPD Diagnosis and Treatment
In addition to pulmonary function tests and spirometry, your doctor may also want you to have a chest x-ray and/or other tests, such as an arterial blood gas test, which measures the oxygen level in your blood. The arterial blood gas test shows how well your lungs are able to move oxygen into and carbon dioxide out of your blood. If you are diagnosed with COPD, your doctor will most likely discuss a traditional treatment plan with you. Many doctors prescribe inhalers, steroids, oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation to their patients as part of their COPD treatment plan.
It’s important to listen to a doctor’s sage advice about your COPD diagnosis and treatment plan. It is equally important that you seek a treatment that fits your lifestyle and provides you with the results you seek. Many patients have found alternative treatments, such as cellular therapy, helpful to improve their breathing. If you or a loved one suffers from a progressive lung disease, the Lung Institute may be able to help. The Lung Institute uses your own body’s powerful cells to promote healing. Contact us today for a free consultation or call us at 888-745-6697.