Pulmonary function tests and their importance

pulmonary function test

Pulmonary function tests and their importance

Ever felt a tightness in your chest or a struggle to catch your breath? These could be signs of an underlying lung condition. If you’ve experienced these symptoms, your doctor might recommend a pulmonary function test (PFT).

PFTs are a series of non-invasive tests that measure how well your lungs function. They assess various aspects of lung function, including lung volume, capacity, airflow, and gas exchange. This information helps doctors diagnose and monitor a variety of lung diseases, including:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  • Pulmonary fibrosis

Why is the pulmonary function test done?

PFTs play a crucial role in lung health. Here’s why they’re important:

  • Early diagnosis: PFTs can help identify lung problems in their early stages before symptoms become severe. Early detection allows for prompt treatment intervention, potentially leading to better long-term outcomes.
  • Monitoring treatment: PFTs can be used to monitor the effectiveness of treatment for existing lung conditions. By tracking changes in lung function over time, doctors can adjust medications or treatment plans as needed.
  • Assessing risk: PFTs can help assess the risk of complications before lung surgery or other procedures that may affect your breathing.
  • Evaluating disability: PFT results can be used to evaluate lung function impairment for disability claims or insurance purposes.

What Happens During a PFT?

PFTs are typically performed in a hospital’s pulmonary function lab or a specialized clinic. The tests are simple and painless, and they usually take about 30 to 60 minutes to complete.

Here’s a breakdown of the common Pulmonary Function Test Procedure:

  • Spirometry: This is the most common PFT. You’ll breathe into a mouthpiece connected to a spirometer, a machine that measures the speed and volume of air you inhale and exhale.
  • Lung volumes: This test measures the total amount of air your lungs can hold. You may be asked to breathe in as deeply as possible and then exhale completely into a machine.
  • Lung capacity: This test measures how much air remains in your lungs after you exhale as forcefully as possible.
  • Diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (DLCO): This test measures how well your lungs transfer oxygen from inhaled air into your bloodstream. You may be asked to breathe in a low-level carbon monoxide gas mixture and then exhale into a machine.

How to Find a PFT Test Near You

If your doctor recommends a PFT, you can discuss where to get it done. Here are some options:

  • Hospital pulmonary function lab: Many hospitals have dedicated labs equipped for PFTs.
  • Outpatient clinic: Some specialized clinics offer PFT services.
  • Your doctor’s office: Some doctor’s offices may have the necessary equipment for basic PFTs.

Searching online: You can use search engines to find “pulmonary function test near me” or “PFT test near me.” This will provide a list of local healthcare facilities offering PFT services.

Cost of a Pulmonary Function Test

The cost of a PFT can vary depending on the specific tests performed, your insurance coverage, and the healthcare facility where you get it done. Generally, the pulmonary function test cost can range from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars. Most insurance companies will cover PFTs when deemed medically necessary by your doctor.

How to prepare for a PFT?

Here are some things to keep in mind when preparing for your PFT:

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing: You’ll need to take deep breaths during the test, so wear comfortable clothing that won’t restrict your movement.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise: Avoid strenuous exercise for at least a few hours before the test.
  • Fasting: Depending on the specific tests performed, you might be asked to avoid eating or drinking anything for a few hours beforehand.
  • Medications: Discuss with your doctor any medications you’re taking, particularly bronchodilators (inhalers) as some may need to be withheld before the test.

Understanding Your PFT Results

PFT results are typically presented as percentages compared to predicted values for your age, height, sex, and ethnicity. A normal PFT result falls within a certain range. However, a value outside the normal range doesn’t necessarily mean you have a lung disease. Other factors like smoking history or a recent respiratory illness can also affect the results.

Your doctor will interpret your PFT results in conjunction with your medical history, symptoms, and other diagnostic tests to arrive at a diagnosis. Here’s a brief overview of what abnormal results in different PFTs might suggest:

  • Spirometry: Lower than normal values for forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) or forced vital capacity (FVC) could indicate airflow obstruction, which is a hallmark of COPD and asthma. The ratio of FEV1 to FVC (FEV1/FVC) is also important. A low FEV1/FVC ratio suggests airflow obstruction.
  • Lung volumes: Lower than normal lung volumes may suggest restrictive lung disease, which can be caused by conditions like pulmonary fibrosis or scarring of the lungs.
  • Lung capacity: Reduced lung capacity can also be a sign of restrictive lung disease.
  • DLCO: A low DLCO can indicate impaired gas exchange, which can occur in various lung diseases, including emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis.

Living with Lung Disease

If you’re diagnosed with a lung condition, it’s important to work closely with your doctor to manage your symptoms and opt for a pulmonary function test for asthma to prevent further complications. Treatment options can include:

  • Medications: Depending on the specific condition, medications like bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, or corticosteroids may be prescribed to improve airflow and manage inflammation.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation: Pulmonary rehabilitation programs involve exercise training and education to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
  • Oxygen therapy: In some cases, oxygen therapy may be necessary to increase oxygen levels in your blood.
  • Surgery: In some severe cases, lung surgery may be an option.

Living a Healthy Life with Lung Disease

Here are some lifestyle changes that can help you manage your lung condition and improve your overall health:

  • Quit smoking: Smoking is the leading cause of COPD and can worsen other lung diseases. If you smoke, quitting is the single most important thing you can do for your lung health.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke: Exposure to secondhand smoke can irritate your lungs and exacerbate symptoms.
  • Control your weight: Maintaining a healthy weight can improve your breathing and overall health.
  • Get vaccinated: Regular flu shots and pneumonia vaccinations can help protect you from respiratory infections that can worsen your lung condition.
  • Manage stress: Stress can worsen breathing problems. Relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation can help manage stress and improve your overall well-being.

Resources for Lung Disease

Here are some reputable organizations that offer valuable information and support for people living with lung diseases:


PFTs are a valuable tool for diagnosing and monitoring lung function. Early detection and treatment of lung conditions can significantly improve your quality of life. If you’re experiencing persistent respiratory symptoms, talk to your doctor about PFTs. With proper management and a healthy lifestyle, you can live a full and active life even with a lung disease.

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