Reviewed by David Derrer on June 22, 2014


David Schulman, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine, Emory University Hospital. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. American Lung Association. Cleveland Clinic: “Pulmonary Function Testing". National Lung Health Education Program. WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: “COPD – Exams and Tests. "Barreiro, T. American Family Physician, March 2004; vol 69: pp 1107-1115.Doherty, D. Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society, 2006; vol 3: p 545.

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Video Transcript

Nurse: Take a big deep breath in, up, up, up, up! Suck it in – blow hard! Blast out fast! Blow it out, blow it out, blow it out, blow, blow, blow. Breathe deep, up, up, up, up and catch your breath

Narrator: Ed King is working hard to find out how well his lungs are functioning.

Nurse: Let's do that again. Same thing.

Narrator: He's doing a lung function test called Spirometry. Ed suffers from COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It's progressive…getting worse over time and there's no cure.

Ed King: You might have an easy day of breathing. The next day you get up, you may not have an easy day of breathing.

Nurse: Breathe deep, up, up, up, up and let it go.

Narrator: In patients like Ed…doctors follow disease progression and sometimes make treatment changes. Spirometry is an important tool in both monitoring and diagnosing COPD.

David Schulman, MD, MPH: And with that we measure two things. The amount of air they can move in and out of their lungs and the speed with which they do it.

Nurse: Blow HARD! Blast out fast.

Narrator: Patients are asked to forcefully blow out as much air as they can in one second. That speed is referred to as FEV1 – or Forced Expiratory Volume in 1 second.

David Schulman, MD, MPH: One of the early signs of COPD is obstruction, is the inability to move air out as quickly as you normally should be able to do. FEV1 is a marker of obstruction

Nurse: Now take a BIG breath in.

Narrator: The other measure is referred to as FVC – or Forced Vital Capacity.

Narrator: After a huge inhalation, the amount of air that can be forcibly breathed out is measured.

Nurse: Just a little further, all the way empty, all the way out…and take a big full breath in, up, up, up, up and catch your breath

David Schulman, MD, MPH: The ratio between FEV1 and Forced Vital Capacity is the data point we use to determine whether you have obstructive disease or not.

Narrator: About half of those with COPD don't know it…even though they may have symptoms such as shortness of breath, ongoing cough, wheezing or chest tightness.

Narrator: That's why screening may be suggested if you're a current or former smoker over age 45…have a family history of Emphysema…or worked with chemicals or other lung irritants.

David Schulman, MD, MPH: It's a disease that these folks live with everyday. It's slowly progressive, they don't appreciate the symptoms, and by the time they realize, wow, I am actually in a different place than I was a few years ago, it's often too late to do anything about it.

Narrator: Since his diagnosis, Ed King has learned to live with his COPD.

Ed King : You accept it for what it's worth, and you wind up with an attitude that generally don't let it whip you

Narrator: Ed and his wife Joyce stay active…she gives him chores to do at home and continues to make travel plans.

Joyce King: I just feel that he's done well, taken it within his stride. So have I, because that's the kind of people we are.

Narrator: For WebMD, I'm Rhonda Rowland.