The 6-minute walk test for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a fast and noninvasive way to measure your heart and lung function. If you have COPD, this test helps your doctor understand how it may be affecting your ability to stay active.
The test can be done in your doctor’s office and doesn’t require an additional appointment or specialist visit. Your results might indicate that you need to start a treatment plan or make changes to your current treatment plan.
The 6-minute walk test for COPD is a simple way to test how your heart and lungs respond to light exercise. During the test, you’ll be monitored while you walk at your usual pace for 6 minutes. The results might lead to more testing or to a treatment plan.
The test is often done when your doctor suspects you might have a lung condition like COPD, a heart condition like congestive heart failure (CHF), or as a measure of your overall health.
The 6-minute walk test for COPD can be done on any flat indoor service. This means the test can generally be done in the hallway at your doctor’s office. You don’t need to go anywhere else or see a specialist. You’ll have your vital signs taken before the test begins. This will include your:
You’ll then begin the test. If you normally use a mobility aid like a cane or walker, you’ll be able to use it for the test.
During the test, you’ll make laps to the end of the hallway or to a marker like a chair or a door before turning around and walking back. You’ll make as many laps as you’re able before the 6 minutes are up. You’ll walk at a pace that is normal and comfortable for you.
The medical staff conducting your test will let you know when each minute passes, and you’ll be able to stop and rest if you need. You can stop the test at any time if you begin to have chest pains or trouble breathing.
The 6-minute walk test for COPD is an outpatient test. You can go home right away after it’s complete, and you won’t need to take any time off from work or other activities. Before the test, it’s best to:
- take any daily prescriptions
- dress in comfortable clothes and shoes
- eat a light meal
- avoid exercise in the 2 hours before the test
Your doctor will look at the distance you were able to walk in 6 minutes. Test results are measured in the number of meters traveled. As a rule, higher numbers indicate healthier heart and lung function.
On average, adults can walk between 400 and 700 meters during a 6-minute walk test. Your results will be compared against other people in your age, gender, weight, and height categories. Your doctor will also look at factors like underlying health conditions and the results of a previous 6-minute walk for COPD tests to evaluate your results.
The results of your 6-minute walk test might lead your doctor to recommend physical therapy or a guided exercise program. They might also prescribe you a new medication or change the dose of a medication you currently take.
After 6 months to a year of your new treatment plan, you’ll likely have another 6-minute walk test to see if therapy, exercise, medication, and any other treatments have been effective.
Questions for your doctor or healthcare professional
It’s common to have questions about the 6-minute walk test for COPD. You might be unclear about why you’re taking the test or about your results. It’s best to talk with your doctor and get a clear understanding of your health.
You can start by asking:
- Why am I having this test?
- What are the next steps after this test?
- What are my results?
- What do those results mean?
- What would a good result be?
- How will this treatment plan help me?
- Do I have other treatment options?
The 6-minute walk test for COPD is done to test your heart and lung function. It’s often done when your doctor suspects a condition like COPD or CHF is affecting your daily life.
It might be done when you’re first diagnosed with COPD or another condition when symptoms of a condition like COPD require you to have an in-patient hospital stay. It could also be used to test how well a medication or therapeutic program is working.
The 6-minute walk test is a safe and noninvasive test that’s normally done in a doctor’s office. There aren’t many risks associated with the test.
You’ll be monitored during your walk, and medical staff will be able to assist you if you do have difficulties like chest pain or shortness of breath. But the test isn’t appropriate for everyone. This includes people who have:
- a resting heart rate of over 120 beats a minute
- experienced a recent heart attack
- frequent and uncontrolled chest pain
- uncontrolled high blood pressure
The 6-minute walk test for COPD is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans. But your doctor might need to provide proof to your insurance company that you needed the test. Additionally, you might still be responsible for costs like copayments or deductibles.
You can check with your insurance company before the test if you’re not sure what will be covered.
The 6-minute walk test for COPD allows medical professionals to quickly measure if a condition like COPD or CHF is slowing you down. The test results show how far you can walk in 6 minutes and give doctors a good idea of how well you’re able to do other daily tasks.
Your results might lead to your doctor suggesting you start an exercise program or begin physical therapy sessions. You might also start taking prescription medication or have your current medications adjusted.
Your treatment plan goals will be to help you walk further without feeling shortness of breath or chest pain. A follow-up 6-minute walk test can measure your treatment plan’s success.