Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – COPD – is an irreversible lung condition that can get worse with time. Diseases classified as COPD, which include emphysema and chronic bronchitis, cause swelling of the large airways in the lungs, which obstructs or blocks the flow of air. Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and decreased activity levels. Cigarette smoking is the main cause of COPD.
In the United States, 16 million people have been diagnosed with the disease, but there are millions of people with COPD who have yet to be undiagnosed. While there’s no cure for COPD, treatments are available. To properly diagnose your condition and determine treatment, your doctor may order a pulmonary function test. Pulmonary function tests determine how much air the patient can take in and then exhale. The test also determines if enough oxygen is being delivered to the blood via the lungs.
The most common lung function test involves the patient blowing through a tube that is attached to a spirometer. The spirometer measures lung capacity – that’s how much your lungs can hold. A spirometry also detects how fast the air can be expelled from the lungs. Unlike tests that take time to be read or must be sent to a lab for further evaluation, a spirometry delivers results that can be interpreted immediately. The doctor can diagnose the type of disease affecting the patient, and also the severity of the disease.
With the spirometer, the total volume of air that is exhaled is known as the forced vital capacity (FCV). The measurements of the FCV include the percentage of air that is forced out of the lungs within the first seconds of the test (FEV1). This is the expiratory volume. Peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) refers to the maximum speed at which the patient is able to empty their lungs.
The spirometer is an effective lung function test, able to diagnose COPD before symptoms present. Once the disease is diagnosed, a doctor will continue to perform follow-up test to measure the progression of the disease, as well as how well you are managing with treatment.
A bronchodilator, a drug that widens bronchi, makes it easier for persons with breathing problems to breathe, and is often prescribed for patients with COPD. The spirometry test helps the doctor to monitor the effectiveness of the drug and is necessary for the baseline measurement is taken during the initial spirometry test. The patient undergoes the test and then with a few minutes is given a dose of the bronchodilator medication. Following the medication, the test is repeated. The doctor will be able to determine if the medication is effective for your condition.
Unfortunately, COPD can go undiagnosed because it presents with symptoms are similar to other conditions. That is unfortunate; often by the time COPD is finally diagnosed and treated, it may be so far along that treatments aren’t as effective as they would have been if caught early.
Northwest Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine is experienced with diagnosing lung disorders, including COPD. Don’t wait to be diagnosed if you’re experiencing breathing difficulty. The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to treat the disease. If you have any questions about our pulmonary and sleep services, please call us at (815) 477-7350. To schedule an appointment, you can call us or use our secure online appointment request form