How is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) diagnosed?
To diagnose COPD, the physician needs the answers to the following questions:
- Do you smoke?
- Have you had chronic exposure to dust or air pollutants?
- Do other members of your family have lung disease?
- Are you short of breath?
- Do you get short of breath with exercise?
- Do you have chronic cough and/or wheezing?
- Do you cough up excess mucus?
To help with the diagnosis, the physician will conduct a thorough physical exam, which includes:
- Listening to your lungs and heart
- Checking your blood pressure and pulse
- Examining your nose and throat
- Checking your feet and ankles for swelling
Laboratory and other tests
Several laboratory and other tests are needed to confirm a diagnosis of COPD. These tests might include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to check heart function and rule out heart disease as a cause of shortness of breath
- Chest X-ray to look for lung changes that could be caused by COPD
- Spirometry and pulmonary function tests (PFTs) to determine lung volume and air flow
- Pulse oximetry to measure the saturation of oxygen in the blood
- Arterial blood gases (ABGs) to determine the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
- Exercise testing to determine if the oxygen level in the blood drops during exercise
You might also talk to your doctor about whether testing for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is appropriate for you.