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Overview of Tests of Pulmonary Function

By Karen L. Wood, MD, Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep, Grant Medical Center, Ohio Health

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Pulmonary function tests provide measures of airflow, lung volumes, gas exchange, response to bronchodilators, and respiratory muscle function.

Basic pulmonary function tests available in the ambulatory setting include;

  • Spirometry

  • Pulse oximetry

Spirometry and pulse oximetry provide physiologic measures of pulmonary function and can be used to quickly narrow a differential diagnosis and suggest a subsequent strategy of additional testing or therapy. More complicated testing includes

  • Measurement of lung volumes

  • Lung, chest wall, and respiratory system compliance (which requires measurement of esophageal pressure)

These tests provide a more detailed description of physiologic abnormalities and the likely underlying pathology. The choice and sequence of testing are guided by information taken from the history and physical examination.