Everything You Need To Know About The Pulmonary Function Test (PFT)

Everything You Need To Know About The Pulmonary Function Test (PFT), spirometry, lung volumes, DLCO, oxygen titration test

When it comes to pulmonary topics, it can be easy to get confused by all the conditions and tests that exist out there. There are hundreds of pulmonary conditions, and each one has different tests used to diagnose it and varying methods of treatment. Lots of patients want to better understand these conditions, but many of them are too shy to really question their pulmonologist about the purpose of each pulmonary fiction test prescribed.

Luckily, there are lots of ways to educate yourself about these tests and conditions online. By the end of this, we hope you’ll find yourself enlightened, educated, and comfortable discussing PFT’s with your doctor.

What is a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT)?

Pulmonary function test (PFT) is a term used for a number of tests that identify your lung function and the ability of your lungs to deliver oxygen to other organs. PFT’s are non-invasive procedures that measure a patient’s lung volume and capacity, flow rates, and gas exchange.

Your pulmonologist may order any of the different pulmonary function tests in order to give you a precise diagnosis on your condition and choose the best treatment plan. In addition, if you have an existing condition, your pulmonologist will order various pulmonary function tests regularly to see whether your body is responding to the treatment.

What are the types of Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs)?

Based on your individual condition, a pulmonologist may order one or more of the following tests:

•    Spirometry

A Spirometry measures the amount of air you inhale and exhale, as well as the flow of air.

•    Lung Volumes

This test shows the air volume in your lungs.

•    DLCO

The DLCO measures the ability of your lungs to transfer gas from inhaled air to blood in pulmonary capillaries.

•    Maximal Voluntary Ventilation

This test measures the amount of air you can inhale and exhale in one minute.

•    Oxygen Titration Test

The oxygen titration test identifies the amount of oxygen a patient needs, or tests if a patient on oxygen support is receiving the right amount of oxygen.

•    Six-Minute Walk Test

This test identifies how quickly you can walk on a flat surface for 6 minutes and measures your ability to perform daily tasks.

•    Methacholine Challenge Test

The Methacholine Challenge Test is used for asthma diagnosis in particular and helps to identify asthma or asthma-like conditions using reactive triggers.

•    Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing

This test measures the patient’s exercise capacity and helps to evaluate the causes of breath shortness or low exercise ability.

•    Fractional Exhaled Nitric Oxide

This test is mostly used for allergic asthma diagnosis; however, it can also be used for other conditions.

•    Impulse Oscillation or Forced Oscillation Testing

This test measures your airways and stiffness in your lungs.

•    High Altitude Simulation Testing

High altitude simulation testing is used for calculating your blood oxygen levels in high altitudes.

Why perform a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT)?

Pulmonary function tests can be ordered by your pulmonologist to identify the pulmonary condition you are suffering from or to track the performance of treatment for an existing condition. Performing PFTs will actually help to diagnose and treat all pulmonary diseases including but not limited to asthma, allergy, lung fibrosis, lung cancer, sarcoid, and chronic bronchitis.

What are the risks associated with a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT)?

Pulmonary function tests are non-invasive and, in most cases, do not cause any complications. That being said, there are some exceptions you need to be aware of. On rare occasions, PFTs can cause dizziness, coughing, asthma attack, and shortness of breath. Also, people who’ve had recent eye, belly, or chest surgery, as well as recent heart attack or active tuberculosis, should not undergo pulmonary functioning tests.

How to prepare for Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs)?

Make sure you disclose all your medical information to your doctor, including over-the-counter and prescription medications you take and conditions you have. For example, if you are on medications that widen your airways, in most cases, your pulmonologist will ask you to stop using them before the test to get unbiased results. On top of that, make sure you don’t overeat prior to the test, as a full stomach can affect lung functionality for a short period of time, which can alter the results. And, finally, avoid caffeine and nicotine that can also affect your test results. 

Where to get Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs) done?

With a large variety of pulmonary function tests available, it's quite easy to get lost and is hard to identify on your own the ones you actually need. If you ever experience any disturbing pulmonary symptoms, feel free to reach out to the Pulmonary Associates of Brandon and schedule an appointment with one of our pulmonologists who, based on your condition, will prescribe the appropriate pulmonary function tests for you to undergo at our practice.