A phlegmy cough and shortness of breath are possible warning signs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Keeping track of your symptoms and knowing your risk factors can help you test yourself for COPD.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a condition that occurs when damage and inflammation in your pulmonary system make it difficult to breathe.

Also known as your respiratory system, the pulmonary system includes your lungs, airways, and anatomical features (like your nose and mouth) involved in exchanging gases between your body and the environment.

Because COPD’s symptoms are common in other conditions and short-term illnesses, COPD can go undiagnosed. You can test yourself for COPD by reviewing your symptoms and risk factors and by assessing your lung function at home. However, the most accurate results will come from a doctor, along with a treatment plan.

In the United States, only a licensed medical professional can officially diagnose COPD. Depending on your state regulations, this might include your primary care physician, pulmonologist, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant.

A formal diagnosis typically involves specialized lung function tests like spirometry, oximetry, and the 6-minute walk test. Your doctor will recommend diagnostic imaging to evaluate changes in your pulmonary system and the severity of COPD damage. Blood work and other laboratory tests check for abnormalities in proteins, enzymes, and blood cells.

Not only do these tests help your doctor evaluate COPD, but they also help rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms.

While a formal diagnosis is essential for a comprehensive insight into causes, symptoms, and therapies, it’s possible to get an idea of how likely a COPD diagnosis might be ahead of time.

There’s no definitive self-test for COPD. No questionnaire or at-home breathing exercise will inform you, without a doubt, that COPD is causing your symptoms. Verifying the presence of COPD requires specialized breathing equipment, laboratory work, and imaging technology.

While you can’t self-diagnose COPD, you can screen yourself before your appointment. Being able to recognize common symptoms, early warning signs, and risk factors for COPD, for example, is the easiest way to test yourself before visiting the doctor.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with COPD basics, you can check your findings against an online COPD questionnaire. Many of these questionnaires are also used by your doctor. You might be asked to complete one during your visit even if you already did it at home.

Several available COPD surveys and questionnaires include:

No COPD questionnaire is 100% accurate at predicting COPD. At best, they help assess initial symptoms, track COPD changes in function, and support a clinical diagnosis.

After you evaluate your symptoms, risks, and questionnaire results — you can try the following simple lung function test recommended by the National Emphysema Foundation:

  • Take a full breath.
  • Hold that breath for 1 second.
  • Exhale as hard and fast as you can until you feel as though your lungs are completely empty. Time, in seconds, how long this takes.

If it takes longer than 4 to 6 seconds to exhale completely, it may be an indication your airflow is limited or obstructed.

Recognizing COPD symptoms and risk factors is one of the best ways you can test yourself for COPD before your initial doctor visit.

The most common early warning signs of COPD include:

COPD is a progressive condition. As time goes on, these early warning signs develop into persistent symptoms that often become more severe and happen more frequently. COPD can eventually cause significant limitations in your daily function.

Pairing your knowledge of COPD symptoms with your individual risk factors can clue you into how likely a COPD diagnosis might be.

Risk factors for COPD include:

  • smoking and/or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • smoke exposure from coal- or wood-burning stoves
  • a history of childhood respiratory infections
  • living with asthma
  • having underdeveloped lungs
  • long-term environmental exposure to pollutants, dust, or fumes
  • living with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD), a genetic condition
  • being over 40 years of age

A COPD diagnosis may be more likely if you meet one or more risk factors while experiencing pulmonary symptoms.

Receiving a COPD diagnosis starts with a doctor’s visit. If you have medical insurance but haven’t established a primary care physician yet, your insurance provider can let you know which doctors in your area are within your network.

Because new patient appointments, and appointments in general, are often scheduled weeks out, calling your clinic of choice as soon as possible helps you get the first available time slot. If your symptoms are causing you significant distress, you can meet with a doctor the same day by visiting an urgent care center or emergency room.

Fees associated with these on-demand options are often higher than a visit with a primary care professional, however.

If you don’t have medical insurance, diagnostic opportunities are still available. You may be able to have COPD diagnosed through:

You can also contact local clinics to see if they offer telemedicine with affordable pricing or sliding fee schedules for people without medical insurance.

Only a licensed medical professional can formally diagnose COPD.

While you can test yourself for COPD at home with symptom screening, risk evaluation, and online questionnaires, only a licensed medical professional can formally diagnose COPD.

Confirmation of a diagnosis requires specialized medical equipment to test lung function and assess pulmonary damage.