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Overview of Tests for Lung Disorders

By Noah Lechtzin, MD, MHS, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director, Adult Cystic Fibrosis Program, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

After doctors complete the medical history and physical examination, they often take a chest x-ray. The results of the history, physical examination, and chest x-ray often suggest what additional testing may be needed to determine what is causing the person's symptoms.

Doctors may test for lung disorders by measuring the lungs' capacity to hold and move air and to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. These tests (called pulmonary function tests) are most helpful in determining the general type of lung disorder and determining the severity. Other tests, including chest imaging, bronchoscopy, and thoracoscopy, allow doctors to determine the specific cause of a lung disorder.

Because heart disorders may also cause shortness of breath and other symptoms that may suggest a lung disorder and because lung disorders can affect the heart, doctors often do electrocardiography (ECG) and echocardiography and other ultrasound procedures in people with lung symptoms.