What is a Pulmonary Function Test?

patient discussing with doctor If you’re experiencing symptoms such as chronic cough or shortness of breath, your doctor may want to perform a pulmonary function test to gain more information about your condition.

In this blog, New York City pulmonologist Dr. Marc Bowen of MXBowen, Physician P.C., Health & Breathing Center explains what a pulmonary function test is and how it can help your doctor make a diagnosis.

What is a pulmonary function test?

A pulmonary function test – which is also called a PFT or a lung function test – shows how well your lungs are working. This non-invasive test can give your doctor specific data about your lung function.

When is this test performed?

A pulmonary function test may be done as part of a physical or to check your lung function before surgery. In some cases, it can also be performed if you’re having symptoms such as chronic coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest pain.

The test can help your doctor confirm or rule out the presence of one or more of the following issues, determine its severity and effect on your lungs, or evaluate how well treatment for these conditions is working:

  • Respiratory infections
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (scarring and thickening of the tissue around the air sacs in your lungs)
  • Asthma
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Tumors on the wall of the chest
  • Sarcoidosis – lumps of cells around the lungs or other organs
  • Scleroderma – hardening and thickening of connective tissue

What is involved?

The most common type of lung function test is spirometry. During this non-invasive test, you’ll breathe into a mouthpiece that’s attached to a machine called a spirometer.

It measures how quickly air moves in and out of your lungs by measuring how much air you can breathe in and out in 1 minute. It also records the amount of air you have left in your lungs after exhaling normally and measures gas exchange.

What are the advantages of this test?

A pulmonary function test provides the following advantages:

  • Conveniently performed in the doctor’s office
  • Non-invasive and doesn’t cause pain. You may feel somewhat out of breath afterward, but you’ll be given time to rest if necessary.
  • Quick to perform
  • Provides accurate results in less than 30 minutes
  • Yields valuable data that can help your doctor diagnose lung issues or respiratory tract disorders
  • Helps your doctor measure the effectiveness of treatment you’re already receiving
  • Has little or no risk

What can I expect after a pulmonary function test?

You may feel a little light-headed or out of breath after the test, so you may need to sit down for a few minutes. Your doctor will look at and evaluate the results of your test and will be able to confirm or rule out a suspected diagnosis.

If your test has revealed an issue, your doctor can devise a treatment plan. And if the test was performed to measure how well your treatment is working, your doctor can determine if any changes are warranted.

If you’re having breathing issues or are experiencing chronic coughing, make an appointment today with Dr. Marc Bowen at MXBowen, Physician P.C., Health & Breathing Center. We’ll conduct a pulmonary function test if needed to gain more information about your condition and devise an effective treatment plan or make any changes needed in your current treatment.

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