Healthy Living

Diagnosing COPD

Diagnosing COPD

If you have symptoms that are likely to be of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), visit your doctor as soon as possible. You can receive a proper diagnosis if you have COPD after several breathing tests have been administered.

Early detection of COPD is essential for those who may be at risk. Once COPD is diagnosed, treatment can ensue as soon as possible to prevent or slow down the progression of this disease. If disease progression is prevented, patients with mild COPD can lead a fairly normal life. Patients with moderate or severe forms of COPD have a greater health risks compared to those who are diagnosed with mild COPD. Therefore, it is vital to visit with your doctor to test if you have COPD and begin treatment before it is too late.


First, your doctor will take a full detailed medical history regarding your breathlessness and sputum production. However, no individual clinical feature is diagnostic of COPD, therefore, you will have to undergo several breathing tests and blood tests to reach a proper diagnosis.

A breathing test method, called spirometry, is performed to determine if the symptoms you are experiencing are due to COPD. Depending on your symptoms, your history of smoking, and previous medical history, your healthcare practitioner may order a spirometry, otherwise known as a lung function test, or pulmonary function test.


During a spirometry, you will be asked to take a deep breath and exhale as hard and as fast as you can into a tube placed in your mouth. This tub is connected to a machine called the spirometer. The spirometer will measure how much air you exhale and the rate the air was exhaled. The result sheet you will receive is called the spirogram.  

This procedure is simple, rapid, painless, and accurate.

The volume of air you can exhale in one second is called the forced expiratory volume (FEV-1), and it indicates how well your lungs function. The second value that the spirometer measures is the total volume of air you exhale, called the forced vital capacity (FVC). These values, provided by the spirometer, helps your health care provider compare it with the normal values of a healthy individual with the same weight, height, gender, and ethnicity.

Chest X-ray

A chest x-ray is usually administered to determine if you have another lung condition that can be causing the symptoms, such as a lung infection, or a lung cancer. Chest x-rays often appear normal in COPD patients, in most cases.

Blood tests

Blood tests can be administered to check the hemoglobin levels, as anemia can also cause an individual to have difficulty breathing. Due to persistent hypoxemia, the hemoglobin levels can be raised.

Arterial Blood gas

Blood from your artery might be tested to assess the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. In severe COPD patients, there may be a reduction in oxygen levels (hypoxemia) and a rise in carbon dioxide levels (hypercapnia).

Sputum examination

Your doctor may take a sample of your sputum to check if it is infected.

Alpha 1 anti trypsin

If you have a condition called alpha 1 anti trypsin deficiency, which can be hereditary, and if you developed COPD under the age of 35-years-old, then your blood may be tested for alpha 1 antitrypsin level.

Electrocardiogram (ECG) and echocardiogram

ECG and echocardiograms are administered to assess the condition of your heart. Some patients with chronic bronchitis have the potential to develop heart failure. Therefore, your heart will be assessed from time to time.

You may have COPD without even knowing it. So, if you have symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of COPD, visit your doctor as early as possible to receive a proper diagnosis. Early detection of COPD can help to prevent further disabilities and improve your overall quality of life.