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02 / 09 / 2014
Emphysema
 
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Emphysema

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ASTHMA & RESPIRATORY SYSTEM

Respiratory System

 

When to seek medical advice

See your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • You feel short of breath most of the time.

  • You can't breathe well enough to tolerate even moderate exercise.

  • You frequently cough up sputum that's colored and possibly infected.

These are indications that your lungs aren't functioning properly and that you may have emphysema or another chronic lung condition.

Screening and diagnosis

To determine if you have emphysema, your doctor will discuss your medical history and perform a physical examination. You also may have certain tests including:

  • Pulmonary function tests (PFTs). These noninvasive tests can detect emphysema before you have symptoms. They measure how much air your lungs can hold and the flow of air in and out of your lungs. They can also measure the amount of gases exchanged across the membrane between your lung wall and capillary membrane. During the tests, you're usually asked to blow into a simple instrument called a spirometer. PFTs may be done before and after the use of inhaled medications to test your response to them. If you're a smoker or a former smoker but don't have symptoms of COPD, ask your doctor about taking this test.

  • Chest X-ray. Looking at an X-ray image of your lungs may help your doctor detect lung conditions other than emphysema that may be causing your symptoms. Chest X-rays are often normal even in advanced stages of emphysema.

  • Arterial blood gases (ABG) analysis. These are blood tests that measure how well your lungs bring oxygen into your blood and remove carbon dioxide from it.

  • Pulse oximetry. This test involves use of a small device that attaches to your fingertip. The oximeter measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. To help determine when you need supplemental oxygen, tests may be performed at rest, during exercise and overnight.

  • Sputum examination. Analysis of cells in sputum can help determine the cause of some lung problems.

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan allows your doctor to see your organs in two-dimensional "slices." Split-second computer processing creates these images as a series of very thin X-ray beams are passed through your body. A CT scan can detect emphysema sooner than an X-ray can, but it can't assess the severity of emphysema as accurately as pulmonary function tests.

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