Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, although preventable and treatable, may not only affect the lungs but also make a significant impact the entire body systems. Several methods are possible to make a diagnosis of COPD. A proper diagnosis is required in order to get accurate medical information essential to treat COPD effectively. Some common and important diagnostic tools for COPD are discussed here. Doctors, during the process of diagnosing COPD, may choose any or all the following methods to obtain the accurate results and suggest the apt treatment.
1. Analyzing history of the patient
It is a common and initial step of diagnosis of many diseases. During the first visit itself, doctor tries to understand the complete history of the patient. This can contain the information about the family of the patient, smoking history, other personal matters and previous environmental and occupation exposure. How much the patient smokes and for how long has he been starting this habit are the important factors the doctor should know about. Therefore, the patient should be completely honest in his disclosure that helps the doctor for accurate diagnosis and suggesting proper treatment.
2. Physical examination
Usually the doctor performs a thorough physical examination of the person who is suspected suffering from COPD as a primary procedure of the diagnosis. The physical checkup may include the following.
· Measuring the temperature, breaths per minute, pulse and pulse and blood pressure
· Examining eyes, nose, ears and throat to identify the signs of infection
· Listening to lungs and heart with a stethoscope
· Observing the fingers for symptoms of clubbing and cyanosis
· Examining the veins in the neck to check the complications of COPD such as corpulmonale
· Observing the signs of swelling in the ankles, feet, legs or other parts of the body
3. Pulmonary function tests (PFTs)
Pulmonary function tests, in the diagnosis of COPD, are conducted to understand the lung function and asses the degree of damage to the lungs. Usually three types of pulmonary tests-spirometry, lung diffusion studies and body plethysmography are used to diagnose COPD.
· Spirometry testing
As a result of COPD, the air in the lungs is exhaled in a smaller amount and at a slower rate, compared to a normal, healthy person. This is caused byeither physical obstruction such as mucus production or airway narrowing due to chronic inflammation. In this condition, spirometry comes in.
Spirometry, the most common pulmonary function test, is performed with a hand-held device called spirometer. Patients can easily use this device with the assistance of an experienced technician. In normal case, spirometry testing is the clinician’s first option, when diagnosing respiratory problems. A noninvasive, convenient procedure spirometry, which can be performed in the privacy of a doctor’s office, is used to define the stages of COPD. In this procedure, the patient should inhale deeply after all air has been expelled. This movement is then followed by a rapid exhalation and all the air is exhausted from the lungs. Usually doctors measure the spirometry results twice, before and after the patient is given bronchodilator. Improvement in two or three measurements shows the patient can respond well to treatment.
· Body plethysmography
Body, plethysmography, a pulmonary function test determines the quantity of air present in the lungs when the patient take a deep breath and the quantity of air left from the lungs after he/she exhale.
· Lung diffusion studies
In this test, the diffusing capacity of the lungs for carbon monoxide is measured. It tells how effectively the air that you inhale can travel from your lungs to your blood. Abnormal results mean that the lungs lack the capacity tom move the air in and out of the lungs properly.
4. A complete blood count
A complete blood count (CBC) helps the doctor to alert to an infection and tells him how much hemoglobin, among other things, is present in the blood. Hemoglobin, the iron-containing pigment in blood can carry the oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
5. Chest x-ray
When the doctor suspects a person is suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he may suggest for a initial x-ray to reach a diagnosis of COPD. Sometimes, he may perform this throughout the treatment to monitor the progress of the patient.
6. Arterial blood gase
In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the amount of air that the patient breathes into and out of the lungs is damaged. Arterial blood gases (ABGs) measure the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood as well as determine sodium bicarbonate and ph levels in the body. ABGs, the diagnostic tool for COPD, are important in adjusting oxygen therapy.
7. Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan
In normal case, Ct is not required for diagnosing COPD. However, doctor may order it when it is indicated change of symptoms, infection is not resolving, consideration of surgery etc. Although a chest x-ray can show larger areas of density in the lungs, a CT scan, which is more definitive, shows fine details that a chest x-ray cannot. In some situations, a material called contrast is injected into the vein prior to a CI scan. This helps the doctor to see the abnormalities in lungs more clearly.
8. Pulse oximetry
Pulse oximetry, a noninvasive method, measure how well the oxygen is supplied by the patient’s tissues. This diagnostic method is performed by attaching a probe or sensor to the forehead, finger, earlobe or bridge of the nose. Pulse oximetry may be intermittent or continuous. A measurement between 95% and 100% is considered normal.
9. Sputum culture
Sputum culture method for diagnosing COPD is conducted by evaluating sputum or mucus specimen in a laboratory and providing the doctor with a guide in both diagnosing and treating the lung disease. Sputum or mucus can be obtained from the lungs by suctioning or coughing it up.
Obtaining an apt diagnostic tool for COPD will help your doctor to identify the disease and supply with proper treatment that can slow the progression rate of the disease. Early diagnosis and treatment is necessary to recover from COPD.