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What is Pulmonary Function Testing?

Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT) is a type of testing that measures the person’s respiratory system functionality. Testing encompasses a wide range of analyses from X-Rays of the chest, lung capacity tests, and blood gas in arteries to physical exams and medical history. The aim of pulmonary testing is to assess the damage of the lungs. In most instances pulmonary testing is used for scanning of illnesses, diagnosing existing diseases, monitoring the effects of proposed therapy as well as assessing the outcomes of treatment. Chronic pulmonary obstruction disorders, bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, and similar conditions are diagnosed using pulmonary function testing. It is often the case that more than one test is required to get valid and reliable results.

When Is Pulmonary Function Testing Used?

Some of the most common respiratory problems which can be examined using pulmonary testing include different types of disability, obstruction disorders, restrictive disorders, chronic dyspnea, and asthma. Neuromuscular issues in childhood can also be assessed. Further, disorders that lead to progressive muscle atrophy interfere with respiratory functions. The affected individual is usually unable to cough, and has difficulties breathing. The outcome is often significantly decreased lung volume. As such disorders lead to chest deformity they make breathing a tough labor and subsequently lead to chronic respiratory inadequacy. Progressive muscle atrophies are one of the lead causes of restrictive lung diseases. Using pulmonary function testing, medical care professionals are able to identify the root of the problem in its early stages, keep account of the progress of the condition, and propose treatment options.

Pulmonary Function Testing Procedure

Preparation for pulmonary tests is fairly simple and it involves not smoking for at least 4 to 6 hours prior to coming in for the test as well as not consuming a heavy meal the night before. The patient will be made aware if there is a need to stop using inhaling medications for a short period of time. There is also a possibility that a variety of inhalers will be utilized during testing to compare the different states of the lungs. For the purpose of testing the patient will be asked to breathe quickly and exhale as hard as possible. The breathing is done through the mouth into a tube that is connected to a computer, video screen, and electronics, while the nose is clipped to prevent airflow. In addition, there are many types of lung capacity tests with the most common one being a sporimetry. Spirometry involves breathing into a mouthpiece while the machine records how much air the person can hold in the lungs and how quickly the air can be exhaled. During some parts of the test the person is required to breathe naturally. In order to get accurate data of the lung capacity the patient will need to inhale as much air as possible and breathe out with force. Spirometry is usually performed while sitting in a transparent box and breathing normally. During the testing there will be changes in pressure that will indicate the lung volume. Different types of gases can be introduced though the tube to further estimate the capacity of the lungs. The variable of interest in such tests is the amount of gas that can be found when the person exhales. The doctors are interested to see how quickly the gas flows from the lungs into the blood stream. Further, persons who are referred for lung testing may suffer from shortness of breath. The cause is likely to be found but the testing can be slightly uncomfortable. Individuals who work in unhealthy environments are often sent for pulmonary exams as well. The results are usually discussed immediately but the official report is sent to the referring physician within a few hours or days. When interpreting the results various factors such as age, sex, height, and ethnic background have to be taken into consideration. The data are presented in terms of percentages and if the person scores less than 80 percent the lung capacity is diminished. It should be noted that it is very common for the results to vary from test to test. Lastly, little to no risk is involved when taking pulmonary function tests. Individuals with heart disease should consult with their primary health care providers before going for lung capacity testing. If the person has recently had a heart attack the testing should be scheduled for another time.


The primary aim of spirometry is to measure the airflow, and the focus is on the person’s ability to exhale quickly and empty the lungs. The elements that are being measured during spirometry testing are numerous. For instance, the total capacity of the lungs is measured by the amount of air after the deepest possible inhale. The individual will also be asked to take as many quick breaths he or she could and exhale fast over a short period of time, usually one minute.

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