Font Size

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) (cont.)

Exams and Tests

To diagnose COPD, your doctor will probably do the following tests:

Tests done as needed

  • Arterial blood gas test. This test measures how much oxygen, carbon dioxide, and acid is in your blood. It helps your doctor decide whether you need oxygen treatment.
  • Oximetry. This test measures the oxygen saturation in the blood. It can be useful in finding out whether oxygen treatment is needed, but it provides less information than the arterial blood gas test.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG) or echocardiogram. These tests may find certain heart problems that can cause shortness of breath.
  • Transfer factor for carbon monoxide. This test looks at whether your lungs have been damaged, and if so, how much damage there is and how bad your COPD might be.

Tests rarely done

  • A test to measure levels of alpha-1 antitrypsin, or ATT. ATT is a protein your body makes that helps protect the lungs. People whose bodies don't make enough ATT are more likely to get emphysema.
  • A CT scan. This gives doctors a detailed picture of the lungs.

Regular checkups

Because COPD is a disease that keeps getting worse, it is important to schedule regular checkups with your doctor. Checkups may include:

Tell your doctor about any changes in your symptoms and whether you have had any flare-ups. Your doctor may change your medicines based on your symptoms.

Early detection

The sooner COPD is diagnosed, the sooner you can take steps to slow down the disease and keep your quality of life for as long as possible. Screening tests help your doctor diagnose COPD early, before you have any symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about COPD screening if you:

  • Are a smoker or ex-smoker.
  • Have had serious asthma symptoms for a long time, which have not improved with treatment.
  • Have a family history of emphysema.
  • Have a job where you are exposed to a lot of chemicals or dust.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not recommend COPD screening for adults who are not at high risk for COPD.7 And some experts recommend that screening be done only for people who have symptoms of a lung problem.8

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

To learn more visit

© 1995-2012 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Medical Dictionary