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If you're having lung problems or trouble breathing, it's important to get your lungs tested. Ask your doctor about breathing tests (or lung function tests).
Lung function tests measure how much air your lungs hold and how quickly your lungs can move the air in and out. Spirometry is often the first lung function test that is done. You may also have other tests, such as gas diffusion tests, lung volume testing, inhalation (or methacholine) challenge tests, and exercise stress tests. Your doctor will explain which tests you need.
These tests check how well your lungs work. They may also be called pulmonary function tests, or PFTs. A complete or full PFT usually involves most of the types of tests listed above, but a full PFT is not always necessary. For example, only the spirometry test is necessary to diagnose asthma or COPD.
Sometimes other tests are done at the same time as the lung function tests. For example, you may have a blood test to check the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your blood (arterial blood gas test or ABG). Or you may have a small sensor attached to your finger to check the oxygen level in your blood (oximetry).
Doctors use lung function tests to see if your breathing problems are caused by lung disease and diagnose lung diseases like asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). You may have lung function tests before you have surgery. Or your doctor may use lung function tests to find out how well treatment for a lung problem is working.
For most tests, you will wear a nose clip. This is to make sure that no air passes in or out of your nose during the test. You then breathe into a mouthpiece attached to a recording device.
The healthcare professional will coach you and may ask you to breathe deeply during some of the tests to get the best results.
The testing may take from 15 to 60 minutes, depending on how many tests you have.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
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Adaptation Date: 2/22/2023
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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