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Who Needs Lung Function Tests?

People who have breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, may need lung function tests. These tests help find the cause of breathing problems.

Doctors use lung function tests to help diagnose conditions such as asthma, pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lung tissue), and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Lung function tests also are used to check the extent of damage caused by conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis. Also, these tests might be used to check how well treatments, such as asthma medicines, are working.

Diagnosing Lung Conditions

Your doctor will diagnose a lung condition based on your medical and family histories, a physical exam, and test results.

Medical and Family Histories

Your doctor will ask you questions, such as:

  • Do you ever feel like you can't get enough air?
  • Does your chest feel tight sometimes?
  • Do you have periods of coughing or wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)?
  • Do you ever have chest pain?
  • Can you walk or run as fast as other people your age?

Your doctor also will ask whether you or anyone in your family has ever:

  • Had asthma or allergies
  • Had heart disease
  • Smoked
  • Traveled to places where they may have been exposed to tuberculosis
  • Had a job that exposed them to dust, fumes, or particles (like asbestos)

Physical Exam

Your doctor will check your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. He or she also will listen to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope and feel your abdomen and limbs.

Your doctor will look for signs of heart or lung disease, or another disease that might be causing your symptoms.

Lung and Heart Tests

Based on your medical history and physical exam, your doctor will recommend tests. A chest x ray usually is the first test done to find the cause of a breathing problem. This test takes pictures of the organs and structures inside your chest.

Your doctor may do lung function tests to find out even more about how well your lungs work.

Your doctor also may do tests to check your heart, such as an EKG (electrocardiogram) or an exercise stress test. An EKG detects and records your heart's electrical activity. A stress test shows how well your heart works during physical activity.

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Last Updated: September 17, 2012