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There are numerous expressions about breathing, and many are along the lines of “It’s as easy as breathing!” For most people, breathing is something they rarely spare a thought about.

But if you are one of those who suffer from respiratory problems, breathing is not always effortless, and “breathing easy” can very quickly become something we regard as precious. 

Nearly 34 million people – roughly 10% – of people in the United States have some form of respiratory ailment, from asthma to emphysema to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). These respiratory conditions differ from temporary respiratory ailments like coughs, pneumonia, bronchitis, and seasonal allergies.

When respiratory problems arise, they often impact our daily lives significantly. When a respiratory problem arises that just won’t let go, your physician will usually recommend that you have a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT). PFTs are a crucial tool in diagnosing respiratory issues. They provide healthcare professionals with valuable insights into how well your lungs function and help them make informed decisions about your respiratory health and suitable therapies. 


Overview of Pulmonary Function Testing

Pulmonary function tests are a series of non-invasive examinations, often done sequentially, designed to assess the functionality of your lungs. These tests allow healthcare providers to evaluate how efficiently you breathe, exchange air, and absorb oxygen into your bloodstream. They can also shed light on how your lungs respond to exercise.

Several types of tests are part of a PFT, each serving a specific purpose:

  • The spirometry test measures how much air you can inhale and exhale and estimates the amount of air in your lungs. It is instrumental in diagnosing conditions like asthma and COPD.
  • Lung Volumes or Body Plethysmography tests assess various air volumes within your lungs at different stages of inhalation and exhalation. It helps detect conditions like pulmonary fibrosis and tracheal narrowing.
  • Gas Diffusion test measures the transfer of oxygen and other gasses between your lungs and your bloodstream, providing insights into how well your lungs facilitate this crucial process.
  • A Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test (CPET) evaluates the functionality of your heart, lungs, and muscles while you engage in physical activity. It helps assess your ability to tolerate exercise and identifies issues related to your heart and lungs.

Your healthcare provider may recommend a PFT if you experience symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, chest tightness, or wheezing. PFTs are also valuable for assessing lung health before surgery and for individuals who use tobacco products. 


Some Test Details

Specially trained respiratory therapists typically perform pulmonary function tests. These professionals have the expertise to ensure accurate and reliable test results, which a pulmonologist can analyze to diagnose specific respiratory problems. If you are scheduled to take a PFT, it should not cause any anxiety.

PFTs are non-invasive, but you must observe a few rules to ensure the test runs smoothly. You should wear loose, unrestrictive clothing for your test, and you may need to refrain from using certain medications before the test. In addition, you will have to refrain from strenuous exercise and from consuming tobacco products or caffeine before the test to ensure the results are accurate. 

The PFT technician will then perform the series of tests (usually more than one) described above. The tests mainly involve following the technician’s instructions about inhaling and exhaling, sometimes forcefully, into various instruments that can measure different aspects of your breathing and the gas exchange in your lungs. The CPET part of the test, if you take it, will involve physical exercise on machines that can measure other vital signs.

Pulmonary function testing is generally safe, although you may experience temporary discomforts such as dizziness or coughing. However, your technician will communicate with you during every aspect of the test, so you can always indicate whether you need to take a short break. 


PFTs at Northwest Specialty Hospital 

Pulmonary function tests are invaluable tools for diagnosing and managing various respiratory conditions. Whether you’re experiencing symptoms or just going in for a routine check-up, these tests can provide critical insights into the health of your lungs. Pulmonologists, who specialize in medical problems that involve the lungs, use PFTs regularly as a diagnostic procedure. 

Northwest Specialty Hospital’s Pulmonology practice administers PFTs to patients who experience complaints with breathing and other lung issues. If you are experiencing respiratory problems or your primary healthcare provider refers you for a PFT, contact the NWSH Pulmonology Clinic today to schedule a pulmonary function test. You will be taking a vital step toward understanding and improving your respiratory health.

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