Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)

Diagnosis & Tests

Physical Examination

Your healthcare provider ask about your symptoms and other medical problems. Your provider will ask about whether you smoke now or smoked in the past, how much you smoked and for how long. They will also ask about other risk factors such as second-hand smoke or work that may have caused damage to your lungs. Your provider will do an examination, listen to your lungs with a stethoscope and measure the oxygen in your blood with a pulse oximeter on your finger. Your provider may recommend some additional tests to help make a diagnosis.  

Pulmonary (lung) Function Tests

Several tests can measure how well your lungs are working. The most common test is spirometry. For this test, you will blow air into a tube to measure how much air your lungs can hold, and how fast you can breathe it out. The results of this test can show whether air is being “trapped” in the lungs, and if the airflow is obstructed when you exhale. You may also repeat this test after inhaling a medication called a bronchodilator to see if your results improve. Sometimes this can help your provider figure out if you have COPD or another condition such as asthma.

Other tests that you may have include:

  • A chest X-ray can show emphysema or other heart or lung problems.
  • A CT scan can show the lungs and airways in more detail to see if you have emphysema or other lung problems.
  • An arterial blood gas test takes a sample of blood from an artery in your wrist to measure how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are in your blood.
  • An exercise test will show how your lungs and heart work with physical activity.
  • In rare cases, a blood test for genetic causes of COPD will be given.

Last Updated August 2020