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Diagnosis of COPD is very important. Much of the burden associated with COPD is the result of under-diagnosis of the disease, which results in many cases of COPD remaining untreated.

COPD is diagnosed based on your signs and symptoms, as well as your medical history, family history, and test results. Your doctor will likely ask whether you smoke and whether you have had contact with lung irritants like air pollution, dust, secondhand smoke, or chemical fumes. Your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen for wheezing or other abnormal sounds in your chest.

Your doctor may also perform tests to diagnose COPD:

  • 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 and how fast you can expel the air.
  • X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan: scans that provide images of the lungs. Doctors can visually inspect these images for signs of COPD.
  • Arterial blood gas test: a simple blood test that allows a doctor to determine how much oxygen is in your blood.