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Pulmonary Function Test

What are pulmonary function tests?

Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) measure how well your lungs take in and exhale air and how efficiently they transfer oxygen into the blood. There are several different tests.

  • Spirometry measures how well the lungs exhale (breathe out).
  • Lung volume measures how well the lungs inhale (breathe in).
  • Testing the diffusion capacity of carbon monoxide (DLCO) shows how efficiently the lungs transfer oxygen from the air into the bloodstream.

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Why are these tests done?

Pulmonary function tests help:

  • Diagnose diseases of the lung such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema.
  • Determine the cause of shortness of breath.
  • Measure the effects of exposure to chemicals, coal dust and other toxins on your lung function.
  • Measure the effectiveness of medicines and other treatments.
  • Detect lung disease at an early stage before you have symptoms.

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How do I prepare for these tests?

Eat a light meal and do not smoke for four to six hours before your test. If you have asthma, ask your health care provider if you need to stop using asthma medicine before the test.

How is the test done?

Spirometry—You breathe into a mouthpiece that is connected to an instrument called a spirometer. The spirometer measures the volume of air that you can force out of your lungs in one second after having inhaled as much as you can. You will be asked to hold the tube of a spirometer in your mouth, inhale as much air as possible, then blow out as hard as you can into the spirometer for one second. The amount of air you can force out is called your forced expiratory volume, or FEV1.

Lung volume—You breathe nitrogen or helium gas through a tube for a certain amount of time. Then the concentration of the gas in a chamber attached to the tube is measured.

Diffusion capacity—You breathe carbon monoxide for a very short time (often one breath). The concentration of carbon monoxide in the air you exhale is then measured. The difference in the amounts of carbon monoxide inhaled and exhaled shows how quickly gas can travel from your lungs into the blood.

PFTs are painless, and you will have time to rest between the different breathing measurements. The measurements may be repeated two or more times.

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Pulse Oximetry

A pulse oximeter is a medical device that indirectly measures the oxygen saturation of a patient’s blood (as opposed to measuring oxygen saturation directly through a blood sample) and changes in blood volume in the skin, producing a photoplethysmograph. It is often attached to a medical monitor so staff can see a patient’s oxygenation at all times. Most monitors also display the heart rate.

A blood-oxygen monitor displays the percentage of arterial hemoglobin in the oxyhemoglobin configuration. Acceptable normal ranges are from 95 to 100 percent, although values down to 90 percent are common. For a patient breathing room air, at not far above sea level, an estimate of arterial pO2 can be made from the blood-oxygen monitor SpO2 reading.

We also perform exercise pulse oximetry for Medicare patients needing to re-qualify for their home oxygen and to evaluate a patient’s oxygen levels during exercise.

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Coumadin Clinic

We offer an in-office Coumadin clinic for those patients using Coumadin, Warfarin, Lovenox, and Fragmin. We perform a finger stick PT/INR level check as well as a consultation with an RN.

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What is the prothrombin time test?

The prothrombin time, or PT, test measures the time it takes your blood to form a clot. This test is also often called protime.

The results of the prothrombin time test may vary from lab to lab, so healthcare providers use a ratio called the INR (international normalized ratio) to be able to account for the differences.

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Why is this test done?

The PT/INR is usually done to measure the effect of blood-thinning medicines (anticoagulants), such as Warfarin (Coumadin).

If you have a medical condition such as atrial fibrillation or deep vein thrombosis, or have had a heart valve replaced, your blood is more likely to form clots. Clots can block blood vessels and possibly cause a heart attack or stroke. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a blood thinner to help prevent clots. It’s very important to measure the effect of a blood thinner with this test. The medicine should keep the blood just thin enough to prevent clots. If the blood is too thin, you may bleed too easily.

The prothrombin time test may also be done if you have abnormal bleeding or clotting.

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Injections

At the Gwinnett Pulmonary Group, we offer a number of injections and vaccines meant to keep patients healthy and well at all times. These injections include:

XOLAIR VACCINES
Used to treat patients with severe asthma
  • Pneumonia
  • Flu
  • H1N1

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FAQ's

What Tests are Available for Shortness of Breath

Do you often feel breathless and wonder what is causing it? That sensation can be alarming, especially when you are unsure of the origin. Shortness of breath can be a symptom of numerous medical conditions, making it difficult for those experiencing it to know where to start. Fortunately, tests are available to diagnose the cause of shortness of breath. By understanding the type of tests that doctors have at their disposal, you will be equipped with knowledge about your condition, allowing you to take steps towards finding relief from potential lung problems or other underlying health issues.

What causes shortness of breath?

While shortness of breath can be a minor issue, there are also multiple reasons to take these symptoms seriously. Research shows “that shortness of breath, or dyspnea, is a common symptom affecting as many as 25% of patients seen in the ambulatory setting. It can arise from many different underlying conditions and is sometimes a manifestation of a life-threatening disease.”

Shortness of breath can feel like one can’t “catch” their breath, tightness in the chest, pressure on the chest, and even the sensation of suffocation, which can be terrifying. 

Some common reasons why an individual may have difficulty breathing include, but are not limited to, are: 

  • Obesity
  • Asthma
  • Smoking
  • COPD
  • Anemia
  • Allergic reaction
  • Panic attacks
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Pneumonia 
  • Fluid in the lung
  • Blood clot in the lung

While shortness of breath can simply boil down to stress and anxiety or a bout of asthma for some people, others might have a severe underlying condition. This reason makes it imperative that people with shortness of breath see a pulmonologist to run some tests. 

Diagnosing the cause of shortness of breath: 

Four primary tests are available for shortness of breath, although other ones exist.

Pulmonary function testing is a broad category that includes the standard spirometry test, lung volume test, diffusing capacity test, and exercise test. These tests identify how much air the lungs can hold, how forcefully the patient can blow air back out, and how easily oxygen enters the bloodstream from the lungs. 

  • Chest imaging scans

To diagnose the primary cause for shortness of breath, chest X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs are available, giving a clear, thorough image of what’s happening inside and around the lungs. 

  • Blood tests

Anemia and heart failure are common causes of shortness of breath, and blood tests can help diagnose patients with these issues. The blood tests are brain natriuretic peptide (BNP), cardiac troponins, and D-dimer.

  • Echocardiogram

Physicians order one of three types of echocardiograms to diagnose heart and lung-related conditions. The transthoracic, transesophageal, and exercise stress echocardiograms are available depending on the patient’s symptoms.

Thankfully, diagnostic technology has come a long way, and several tests are available for patients with shortness of breath. 

Conclusion

If you experience shortness of breath, don’t panic, and certainly don’t try to self-diagnose. Instead, reach out to the pulmonologists at Gwinnett Pulmonary and Sleep. They will ask you about your health history and perform a series of tests to determine your problem’s root cause. Once they have a diagnosis, they can develop a treatment plan that will help you breathe easier again – both figuratively and literally. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

How Long Does a Breathing Test Take?

Do you experience lung problems or shortness of breath so bad at times that it interferes with everyday activities? If you answered ‘yes,’ you might have a serious underlying health condition – like asthma, COPD, or other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. It is essential to understand the seriousness of your illness and seek a medical diagnosis from your doctor. One way of diagnosing any respiratory problems involves taking various breathing tests to measure airflow in and out of the lungs. These tests don’t take too long, but some are more elaborate. If the thought of a medical exam makes you feel uneasy and anxious, learning more about what’s involved in this type of test can provide reassurance and guidance.

Conditions that may require a breathing test

Shortness of breath occurs for various reasons, some are minor while others are more significant and even life-threatening. Since individuals can’t accurately self-diagnose, a pulmonary specialist must conduct one or more diagnostic tests on incoming patients to determine the root cause of their problem. 

Patients who have conditions that are not usually life-threatening by themselves, but may require a breathing test include asthma, COPD, anemia, stress, anxiety, and allergic reactions. People who smoke or those who may have pneumonia typically require a breathing test as well. Obese individuals often struggle with shortness of breath for various reasons, but simply because they are physically out of shape. 

More severe explanations for experiencing shortness of breath are pulmonary embolisms, heart failure, lung disease, fluid in or around the lungs, and more serious cases of pneumonia, including COVID-19 symptoms. 

Types of breathing tests and the time they take 

Pulmonary function testing is a common way of assessing how effectively your lungs are working. It can involve everything from measuring the amount of air you breathe and exhale to checking if oxygen enters your bloodstream properly. Through these tests, healthcare professionals can identify which areas need improvement. These tests are non-invasive, painless, and only take minutes, some even seconds, to complete. 

Spirometry is one test where patients breathe into an instrument with a mouthpiece, which measures the volume of air they can forcibly blow out of their lungs after inhaling as much as possible. This test in action only takes one second.

Patients can find out how much air their lungs can take in with a lung volume test. They will breathe nitrogen or helium through a tube, and the concentration of that gas is carefully measured by attaching it to a chamber. A lung volume test takes a few seconds to a few minutes. 

Patients inhale a single breath of carbon monoxide to measure their diffusion capacity. Then the difference between what’s in the air and what’s exhaled indicates how fast gas can go from their lungs to the bloodstream. This test also takes mere seconds to complete. 

Overall, pulmonary functioning tests are an easy and effective way to see what’s going on with your lung capacity.

Conclusion

If you experience shortness of breath and are looking for a resolution, there is no need to worry. Many factors can influence why someone experiences this symptom, and thankfully, pulmonary specialists can perform plenty of tests to get to the root cause. These tests take varying amounts of time, but none are too long or invasive. If you’re experiencing shortness of breath and want a diagnosis, we encourage you to call Gwinnett Pulmonary and Sleep. We will be more than happy to help you find the source of your problem so that you can start feeling better as soon as possible.

When is a Pulmonary Function Test Required?

Millions of Americans each year become diagnosed with a heart or lung-related condition. Related symptoms, such as shortness of breath, are uncomfortable and frightening, especially if you don’t know what is happening. Feeling short of breath or having difficulty breathing deeply are early symptoms that might signify something serious. If you’re experiencing something similar, you may require a pulmonary function test (PFT). Many heart and lung conditions cause symptoms that can affect your everyday activities. Pulmonary function tests are instrumental in fast-tracking a proper diagnosis for illnesses such as COPD, asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory issues.

Read on to understand when you need a PFT to advocate for yourself and seek treatment with a pulmonologist appropriately.  

What is a pulmonary function test?

Pulmonary function tests are carried out by pulmonologists who order them when their patients have difficulty breathing. The tests are painless, noninvasive, and give doctors a wealth of information to help them determine underlying causes and create a diagnosis. According to experts at Johns Hopkins, two types of disorders cause problems with air moving in and out of the lungs:

  • An obstructive disorder occurs when air has trouble flowing out of the lungs due to airway resistance, which causes a decreased flow of air.
  • A restrictive disorder happens when the lung tissue or chest muscles can’t expand enough, creating airflow problems, primarily due to lower lung volumes.

Examples of pulmonary function tests include 

Various reasons the body has difficulty moving air in and out of the lungs.  Some of these reasons are mild and easy to fix, while others are more serious and life-threatening. Understanding who needs a pulmonary function test can help you advocate for your health if you experience difficulty breathing. 

Who needs a pulmonary function test?

Suppose an individual is diagnosed with shortness of breath, such as asthma or COPD. In that case, they may need recurrent pulmonary function tests to continue to monitor their condition after obtaining a baseline. However, when a patient steps through the doctor’s office doors complaining of constant shortness of breath, the action plan is typically to order one or more pulmonary function tests. 

These tests can help begin the identification process of the following disorders: 

  • Anemia
  • Allergic reaction
  • Asthma
  • Blood clot in one or both lungs 
  • COPD
  • Fluid in one or both lungs
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Obesity
  • Panic attacks
  • Pneumonia 
  • Smoking

A pulmonary function test becomes necessary when someone constantly has one or more of the following symptoms

  • Chest tightness, pain, or pressure
  • Coughing, mainly if you produce mucus or phlegm
  • Difficulty breathing or taking a deep breath
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Wheezing

Since PFTs are not invasive, they are a quick and simple way to head toward a precise diagnosis.  

Conclusion

A pulmonary function test is a great starting point for anyone experiencing shortness of breath. It provides a lot of information in a non-invasive way to help the doctor rule out potential causes and begin treatment. If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, don’t hesitate to contact Gwinnett Pulmonary and Sleep. We can provide you with the care and diagnosis you need to get on the road to breathing better.

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