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Tests for respiratory and lung disorders

Depending on symptoms and medical history, there are various tests for respiratory and lung disorders. Your doctor or pulmonologist (lung expert) may order one or more of these tests to help diagnose your condition, prescribe treatment/therapy and monitor the progression of the disease.

Arterial Blood Gas: Arterial blood gas (ABG) analysis measures the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood to see how well your lungs are working. It also measures the acid-base balance in the blood. Untreated, the imbalance can be harmful and even life-threatening. Your doctor may request this test if you have trouble getting oxygen into your systems due to a lung disease such as pneumonia or emphysema.

Lung Cancer Screening Tests: Screening tests look for cancer in people who may or may not have symptoms. Screening can sometimes find cancer early, when it's easier to treat. Screening is not routinely done for lung cancer, but if you have risk factors such as a history of smoking or working in an industry with a high risk for lung disease, talk with your healthcare provider to see if lung cancer screening might be right for you.

Pulmonary Function Testing: To see how well your lungs are working you may be asked to take one or more pulmonary function tests (PFTs). The tests measure lung volume, capacity, rates of flow and gas exchange. This information is then used to help diagnose your lung problem and to decide the best course of treatment.

Pulse Oximetry: To measure the oxygen level (oxygen saturation) of your blood, you may be given an easy, painless pulse oximetry test. It measures of how well oxygen is being sent to parts of your body furthest from your heart, such as the arms and legs. A device, clipped on to your finger or ear lobe, uses light to measure how much oxygen is in your blood. This helps your healthcare provider decide if you need extra oxygen.

Pulse oximetry is used during tests such as:

  • Six-minute Walk Test to measures your functional status by measuring aerobic exercise capacity. During this test, you walk at your normal pace for six minutes. This test is commonly used for people with pulmonary hypertension, interstitial lung disease or COPD.
  • High Altitude Simulation Test is used to determine the amount of oxygen that may be needed by someone with breathing problems on a flight or while staying at high-elevation locations.

Sputum Culture: If your healthcare provider suspects you might have a lung infection, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, he or she may order a sputum culture or tuberculosis sputum culture to look for an infection. Sputum, or phlegm, is the mucus that settles in your airway and causes a cough. The culture looks for bacteria, fungi or other infection so your healthcare provider can determine the right treatment.

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