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Diagnosing COPD

Your healthcare provider will use your past health history, a physical exam, and certain tests to diagnose COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Health history

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your health history::

  • Current illnesses. Tell your provider about your symptoms and how long you've had them. Talk with your provider about other conditions you have. Tell them the medicines you use to treat them.

  • Past health and surgical history. Share other health problems and surgeries you've had.

  • Family history. Report health problems in family members, especially lung problems.

  • Social and environmental history. The most important factor in COPD is if you smoke or have smoked in the past. Also tell your provider if you've been around secondhand smoke, harmful chemicals, asbestos, or air pollution.

  • Daily activity. Report if breathing gets in the way of your daily activities.

Physical exam

Your provider will examine you. They'll check your heart and lungs with a stethoscope. The focus will be on your airways, including your nose and throat.

Healthcare provider listening to man's chest with stethoscope in exam room.

 Diagnostic tests

  • Pulmonary function tests. These measure air flow in and out of your lungs. They also check how much air your lungs can hold. The most common of these tests is spirometry. This measures how fast and how much air you can blow out (exhale). This test is important to help diagnose COPD. Sometimes you'll get an inhaled medicine. This is to see if your spirometry results improve.

  • Pulse oximetry. This test is generally done by placing a clip on your finger that shows how much oxygen is in your blood (oxygen saturation). This may be done at rest. It may also be done during and after exercise.

  • Arterial blood gas. This uses a needle to draw blood from an artery. It measures levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.

  • Chest X-ray. This shows the size and shape of your lungs. It can also show certain problems in the lungs.

  • CT scan. This computerized X-ray test shows detailed images of the lungs.

Online Medical Reviewer: Allen J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2022
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