When a doctor suspects you have emphysema, based on your complaints, a physical examination will be performed. The doctor will pay particular attention to your breathing sounds, your heart sounds, and your general physical appearance. A number of tests may be ordered or performed in the office or in the Emergency Department. These tests serve to clarify the extent of the disease, the remaining lung function, and the presence of lung infections.
- A chest X-ray helps the doctor to identify changes in your lung that may indicate emphysema. The X-ray also may show the presence of an infection or a mass in the lung (such as a tumor) that could explain your symptoms. Shortness of breath has many causes. The chest X-ray is considered by most doctors to be the quickest and easiest test to begin to separate the different possible causes and formulate a diagnosis.
- Lung function tests can give the doctor specific information about how the lungs work mechanically. These tests involve having you breathe into a tube that is connected to a computer or some other monitoring device, which can record the necessary information. The tests measure how much air your lungs can hold, how quickly your lungs can expel air during expiration, and how much reserve capacity your lungs have for increased demand, such as during exercise.
- If you have a family history of alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, the doctor may wish to send a blood test to evaluate for this genetic disease.
- Blood tests may also be used to check your white blood cell count, which can sometimes indicate an acute infection. This information can be used with the chest X-ray to evaluate for pneumonia, bronchitis, or other respiratory infections that can make emphysema worse.
- Another blood test that may be helpful, especially in the hospital setting, is called the arterial blood gas. This test helps doctors determine how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are in your blood.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/30/2014
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