COPD is a clinical diagnosis, meaning there is no specific test to confirm that you have it. Unfortunately, it cannot be detected before irreversible lung damage has occurred. However, the earlier it is detected, the sooner steps can be taken to slow further damage.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your history and physical exam provide the most important information that is used for the diagnosis of COPD. If your doctor suspects you might have COPD, you may have one or more of the following tests to diagnose COPD and assess the severity of your disease.
Many tests of lung function have been developed. Each provides slightly different information about how well your lungs are working. Pulmonary function tests are painless and noninvasive. They are performed using a machine called a spirometer. By breathing into the spirometer, your doctor can measure your lung volume and your ability to move air in and out of your lungs in a certain period of time. Your results are compared with typical findings of a healthy person your age and similar height. Your doctor can then determine to what extent your lung function is diminished. Sometimes, tests are repeated after you have been given a bronchodilator medication. This is to see if your results improve with this type of treatment.
Pulmonary function measures include:
This test measures how well your lungs transfer a small amount of carbon monoxide gas into your blood. You take a breath of air containing a very small amount of carbon monoxide from a container. The amount of carbon monoxide in your exhaled air or arterial blood is then measured.
A sensor on your finger is used. It can quickly get basic information about the amount of oxygen in your blood.
COPD. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115557/COPD. Updated February 9, 2017. Accessed February 22, 2017.
Diagnosing and treating COPD. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/diagnosing-and-treating. Updated November 30, 2016. Accessed February 22, 2017.
Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 2017. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease website. Available at: http://goldcopd.org/gold-2017-global-strategy-diagnosis-management-prevention-copd. Accessed February 22, 2017.
How is COPD diagnosed? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd/diagnosis. Updated July 31, 2013. Accessed February 22, 2017.
Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, Weinberger SE, et al; Diagnosis and management of stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a clinical practice guideline update from the American College of Physicians, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, and European Respiratory Society. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(3):179-191.
Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.