Diagnosing COPD in an individual consists of a thorough review of symptoms, history of exposure to lung irritants (such as smoking), and family history; a physical exam, and most importantly, breathing tests. Because COPD symptoms can be slow to develop and many of the symptoms are also somewhat common, it’s important to undergo a thorough medical exam with your healthcare provider.
The most effective and common method for diagnosing COPD is spirometry, an easy, painless test that measures lung function and capacity. The patient exhales as forcefully possible into a tube connected to a small machine (spirometer), and the results can be interpreted immediately. This test is most effective because it can determine COPD before significant symptoms appear. It can also help track the progression of COPD and monitor the effectiveness of treatment. Your physician may also use the following to help diagnose COPD:
A thorough evaluation of your blood can help determine if any infections are present that could be compromising your ability to breathe normally, as well as the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, which can help determine a COPD diagnosis. If a genetic deficiency is suspected of causing COPD, levels of alpha-1 antitrypsin will be measured.
An X-ray will allow your doctor to see inside your chest to examine the overall health of your lungs and diagnose emphysema, one of the main causes of COPD. X-rays can also help determine the existence of other complications or illnesses such as heart problems that are making your breathing more difficult.