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Pulmonary Function Testing

Lung function tests (or pulmonary function tests, PFT) evaluate how much air your lungs can hold, how quickly you can move air in and out of your lungs, and how well your lungs add oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide from the blood. The tests can help diagnose lung diseases and measure the severity of lung problems that prevent you from breathing normally.

Spirometry is the lung function test that is done first. It measures how quickly your lungs can move air in and out and how much air they can move in and out. For this test, you breathe into the mouthpiece attached to a recording device (spirometer). The information collected by the spirometer may be printed out on a chart called a spirogram.

Why is it done?

  • Pulmonary Function Tests are done to:
  • Diagnose certain lung diseases (such as asthma).
  • Help determine the cause of breathing problems.
  • Measure the amount of lung function in a person who has a lung disease and to monitor the effectiveness of treatment.
  • Identify people at high risk of developing lung disease (especially people who smoke).
  • Evaluate a person's ability to breathe before surgery.
  • Monitor the lung function of a person who is regularly exposed to substances that can damage the lungs.

How is it done?

Tell your doctor if you have had recent chest pains or a heart attack, or if you are allergic to any medications. Also, tell your doctor if you take medication for a lung disease (or for a condition like asthma). You may need to stop taking some medications before testing.

Do not eat a heavy meal just before this test because a full stomach may prevent your lungs from fully expanding. You should not smoke or exercise strenuously for 6 hours before the test. On the day of the test, wear loose clothing that does not restrict your breathing in any way.

If you have dentures, wear them during the test to help you form a tight seal around the mouthpiece of the spirometer.

For most of the lung function tests, you will wear a nose clip to make sure that no air passes in or out of your nose during the test. You will then be asked to breathe into a mouthpiece connected to a recording device. You may be asked to breathe normally or rapidly, or to inhale and exhale deeply and forcibly.

The exact procedure is different for each type of test. For example, you may be asked to inhale as deeply as possible and then to exhale as fast and as hard as possible. You also may be asked to breathe in and out as deeply and rapidly as possible for 15 seconds. Some tests may be repeated after you have inhaled a spray containing medication that expands the airways in your lungs (bronchodilator).

The testing may take from 5 to 30 minutes, depending upon how many tests are done.

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