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COPD Diagnosis

COPD is a chronic lung disease that worsens over time. While there is no cure, early diagnosis is important, as permanent lung damage can occur while you wait. Treatments can help ease symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Unfortunately, because symptoms are often mistaken for other common conditions, many early cases of COPD remain underdiagnosed or untreated. Overlooked symptoms include:

  • Frequent cough, or cough that produces mucus
  • Wheezing or whistling sounds when breathing
  • Feeling like you’re out of breath, especially when exercising
  • Chest tightness

How Is COPD Diagnosed?

COPD is diagnosed based on your signs and symptoms, as well as your medical history, family history and test results. Your doctor will ask:

  • If you have ever smoked, or currently smoke
  • Whether you have had contact with lung irritants like air pollution, dust, secondhand smoke or chemical fumes
  • If any family members have COPD
  • If you have notable symptoms, such as shortness of breath or chronic cough with or without a lot of sputum

Your doctor will also use a stethoscope to listen for wheezing or other abnormal sounds in your chest.

Diagnostic tests for COPD

Testing for COPD

You may be scheduled for tests to diagnose COPD. These can include:

Lung Function Tests

Lung function tests measure how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you can breathe out and how well your lungs deliver oxygen to the blood.

The most common lung function test is called spirometry and measures how much air you can breathe out after taking a deep breath. The test includes the following measurements: 

  1. Forced vital capacity (FVC) measures how fast you can expel all of the air in your lungs.
  2. Forced expiratory volume - 1 second (FEV1) measures how much air you can expel in 1 second after a deep breath.
  3. FVC/FEV1 ratio, which is the percent of the lung size that can be breathed out in 1 second. This test can help detect COPD even in its early stages.

X-ray or Computed Tomography (CT) Scan

X-rays and CT scans provide images of the lungs. Doctors can visually inspect these images for signs of COPD and emphysema, a type of COPD.

Arterial Blood Gas Test

A simple blood test that allows a doctor to determine how much oxygen is in your blood. This helps doctors determine the severity of your COPD.

AAT Deficiency Test

A blood test that measures for alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency, an inherited genetic disorder. AAT is a protein that helps protect your lungs from damage. People who do not produce enough of this protein are more likely to develop COPD between the ages of 30 and 40.

6-Minute Walk

This tests your exercise capacity by measuring how far you can walk on a flat surface over the course of 6 minutes. It helps determine how your lungs are functioning and whether you can perform daily activities.

Ready for an Appointment?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of COPD, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat COPD.