The official blog of the Lung Institute.
For people living with a chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, chronic bronchitis or pulmonary fibrosis, having your lungs tested is a critical part of your treatment plan. If your doctor suspects certain lung problems or wants to monitor how effective your treatment is, he or she may order a pulmonary function test.
Why are pulmonary function tests done?
Your doctor may order pulmonary function tests (PFTs) to determine how your lungs are working. If you have a chronic lung disease or a condition that affects your lungs, your doctor may use pulmonary function tests to monitor your condition and treatment plan. Pulmonary function tests can help your doctor diagnose respiratory issues such as asthma, allergies, chronic bronchitis, respiratory infections, lung fibrosis, COPD, bronchiectasis and others.
What happens during a pulmonary function test?
Your pulmonary function test may include spirometry, which measures the amount of air you breathe in and out. For some people, the procedure is outpatient, meaning you could go home the same day. However, a pulmonary function test may be done as part of a longer hospital stay. If you have a history of lung or breathing problems, you may feel tired and will be given a chance to rest after the test. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about your test results.
A pulmonary function test can be done with two methods: spirometry and plethysmography. A spirometer is a device with a mouthpiece hooked up to a small electronic machine, and in the plethysmography, you sit or stand inside an air-tight box that looks like a short, square telephone booth to do the tests.
What does a pulmonary function test measure?
- Tidal Volume (VT) – The amount of air inhaled or exhaled during normal breathing.
- Minute Volume (MV) – The total amount of air exhaled per minute.
- Vital Capacity (VC) – The total volume of air that can be exhaled after inhaling as much as you can.
- Functional Residual Capacity (FRC) – The amount of air left in the lungs after exhaling normally.
- Residual Volume – The amount of air left in the lungs after exhaling as much as you can.
- Total Lung Capacity – The total volume of the lungs when filled with as much as possible.
- Forced Vital Capacity (FVC) – The amount of air exhaled forcefully and quickly after inhaling as much as you can.
- Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV) – The amount of air expired during the first, second and third seconds of the FVC test.
- Forced Expiratory Flow (FEF) – The average rate of flow during the middle half of the FVC test.
- Peak Expiratory Flow Rate (PEFR) – The fastest rate that you can force air out of your lungs.
What are the risks and benefits of having a pulmonary function test?
Pulmonary function tests are not invasive, and PFTs are considered safe for most people. However, all procedures have some risks, and the risks of a PFT may include dizziness during the tests, feeling short of breath, coughing and an asthma attack brought on by deep inhalation. In some cases, a person should not have a PFT, so it’s important to discuss any questions or concerns you have with your doctor.
Knowing and keeping track of how your lungs are doing will help you and your doctor develop or modify your treatment plan. Because lung diseases are chronic and progressive, it’s important to monitor how your treatment plan and condition are doing. If you have a PFT that indicates your treatment plan isn’t working as well as before, you and your doctor can modify it before your condition worsens. This will keep you feeling better and staying healthier.
Taking steps to breathing easier.
In addition to monitoring your respiratory function with a pulmonary function test, taking steps to stay healthy will help your lungs. Eating a healthy diet, taking your medications, seeing your doctor regularly, getting gentle exercise and trying alternative treatments, such as stem cell therapy, could help improve your quality of life. Many people have seen improvements to their pulmonary function tests and overall lung health after receiving stem cell therapy at the Lung Institute. If you or a loved one has COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, emphysema or another chronic lung disease, feel free to contact us at (800) 729-3065.