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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (cont.)

What kind of doctor treats COPD?

Early treatment can be done by your primary care physician (for example, to help you to stop smoking). Other physicians that treat COPD are pulmonologists (lung doctors), and depending on the complications and/or the disease progression, infectious disease and critical care specialists. If surgery is needed, a lung surgeon or a transplant surgeon is consulted.

When should you seek medical care for COPD?

Individuals should see a health-care professional if they are experiencing the symptoms of COPD, particularly if breathing has become increasingly difficult.

How is COPD diagnosed?

A health-care professional will perform various tests to determine if a person has COPD, and determine the best treatment for the patient.

  • The patient will be asked about symptoms and whether the patient has smoked, currently smoke, or are exposed to secondhand smoke or air pollutants.
  • The patient will undergo a physical examination. Although a physical evaluation is often not sensitive enough to detect mild-to-moderate COPD, the physical signs are specific and sensitive enough to detect severe COPD. Patients with severe COPD experience rapid breathing (called tachypnea) and respiratory distress (difficulty breathing) with simple activities.
  • A sample of the patient's sputum may be collected and sent to a laboratory for analysis.
  • A chest X-ray or a high-resolution computerized tomography scan (an HRCT scan) may be taken. An HRCT scan is often taken because it provides more detail than a chest X-ray. It is very useful in detecting emphysema.
  • A pulmonary function test should be used because it detects and assesses the severity of lung disease. This test is also helpful in following the progress of lung disease. Using a device called a spirometer, a pulmonary function test can determine how well the lungs are functioning by measuring how much air the patient can breathe in, and how much and how fast the patient can breathe out.
  • An arterial blood gas test may be performed. This test measures how well the lungs are doing in transferring oxygen into the blood and in removing carbon dioxide from it.
  • A pulse oximeter, which is attached to the finger, is sometimes used to measure the percentage of oxygen saturation in the blood.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/29/2015

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