Understanding Your COPD Diagnosis
Understanding Your COPD Diagnosis
Information for Patients with COPD and their Caregivers
This information was sourced from leading COPD health and advocacy organizations. This is general information and should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult with your treating physician if you have specific questions about your COPD or general health.
Diagnosing chronic diseases is not always as simple as taking a single test. For Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients, a definitive diagnosis takes time and multiple tests.
COPD symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Excess mucus production
- Chest tightness
- Swelling in the ankles, feet, or legs
- Frequent respiratory infections.
If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor about getting tested. Diagnosing COPD early is important because prompt treatment may help slow the progression of the disease.
If evaluated for COPD, you will likely have to take the following tests.
Spirometry, or a pulmonary function test (PFT), measures lung function and capacity. To take this test, you will exhale as forcefully as you can into a tube. Doctors connect the tube to a small machine called a spirometer. The machine measures the total volume of air exhaled from your lungs. The results from a spirometry test help determine what type of lung disease you have and how severe it is.
Bronchodilator reversibility test
This test combines the spirometry test with the use of a bronchodilator. A bronchodilator is a medicine that helps open your airways. The test involves taking the spirometry test as normal for a baseline result, waiting 15 minutes, taking a dose of bronchodilator medication, and repeating the spirometry test.
Chest X-ray or CT scan
X-rays and CT scans will give a picture of the structures inside your chest, including the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. These images allow your doctor to see if you have any evidence of COPD.
Sputum is the mucus that you cough up. Examining sputum can help identify the cause of your breathing difficulties.
Arterial blood gas analysis
This test measures the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood and can help indicate the severity of your COPD.
The primary causes of COPD are smoking and exposure to harmful substances in the air. But genetics are a contributing factor as well. If there’s a family history of COPD, your chances of developing the disease are greater than normal.
Wear something comfortable and avoid big meals before a test. Arrive early to your appointment so you can fill out any paperwork that may be required. If you’re diagnosed with severe COPD/emphysema, the Zephyr® Valve may be an option for you. Talk to your doctor or learn more about this non-surgical treatment option. You may be able to have the freedom to breathe easier again.
What is COPD?
COPD is a progressive, inflammatory disease that affects the lungs.
It destroys the lungs over time by damaging the little grape-like sacs called alveoli. As you breathe in and out, the alveoli expand and contract.
When these sacs get damaged, they lose their elasticity and have trouble contracting when you breathe out.
When they do not contract, the carbon dioxide (CO2) in your lungs isn’t pushed out. Trapped CO2 causes the feeling of shortness of breath because you must work twice as hard to breathe out as you do to breathe in.
- Healthline Editorial Team. “COPD Diagnosis: Spirometry, X-Ray, and 6 More Tests for COPD.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 7 Nov. 2018, healthline.com/health/copd/tests-diagnosis#preparation.
- “How Is Copd Diagnosed?” Health.com, Sept. 2016, www.health.com/condition/copd/copd-tests
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “COPD – Diagnosis and Treatment.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 15 Apr. 2020, mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353685.