Your doctor will use a combination of your medical history, a physical exam, and lung function tests to determine if you have COPD.
This includes your symptoms, any risk factors like smoking or exposure to lung irritants, and other information to help give your doctor clues about your condition.
Your doctor will physically examine you with a stethoscope to listen for abnormal breathing sounds like wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound).
LUNG FUNCTION TESTS FOR COPD
Your doctor may recommend one or more tests to help determine if you have COPD. Spirometry is a lung function test that measures how much air you can breathe in and out. It also measures how fast you can blow out. It may detect COPD even before symptoms develop. You’ll start by taking a deep breath, and then blowing as hard as you can into a machine called a spirometer, which will record measurements like:
- FEV1 (Forced Expiratory Volume in 1 second), a measure of how much air you can breathe out in 1 second
- FVC (Forced Vital Capacity), the maximum amount of air you can breathe out in one breath
- FEV1/FVC Ratio: FEV1 expressed as a percentage of FVC; people with COPD usually have an FEV1 that is less than 70% of the FVC, or an FEV1/FVC less than 0.70
Your doctor may order other tests, like a chest x-ray or CT scan, which can provide important information about your COPD or help rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. He or she may also order an arterial blood gas test, which helps determine the oxygen level in your blood.
These tests can help your doctor determine the severity of your COPD and guide further treatment.
HAVING AN OPEN CONVERSATION ABOUT COPD
WITH YOUR DOCTOR IS KEY TO MANAGING YOUR DISEASE.
By telling your doctor more, you could increase your chances of getting treatment that is right for you.
There are 4 grades of COPD, and each is progressively more severe.
This classification of the severity of reduced airflow in COPD by GOLD (Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease) is based on FEV1 after using a bronchodilator, in people with FEV1/FVC less than 0.70:
MILD COPD (GOLD 1)
FEV1 ≥80% predicted
MODERATE COPD (GOLD 2)
50% ≤ FEV1 <80% predicted
SEVERE COPD (GOLD 3)
30% ≤ FEV1 <50% predicted
VERY SEVERE COPD (GOLD 4)
FEV1 <30% predicted