Imagine being told that you may have emphysema. When you ask your doctor how he came to that conclusion, he tells you he has based it upon your history and physical. But, is your doctor going to treat you based on this limited information? Probably not.
In order to support a diagnosis of emphysema, your doctor is going to need more information. How does he obtain this? Through a battery of diagnostic tests designed to help him reach a more definitive emphysema diagnosis.
The tests listed below may be ordered by your doctor to determine the presence and severity of emphysema:
The presenting symptoms and findings made during a physical examination provide your doctor with the initial clues to any health problem, emphysema included. During your office visit, your doctor will ask you a number of questions related to your history which may include questions about your smoking history and your exposure to other irritants such as secondhand smoke, workplace or environmental exposures.
During your physical examination, your doctor will be looking for characteristic signs of emphysema such as a round, barrel chest, muscle wasting, clubbing of the nail beds and abnormal breath sounds or breathing patterns.
2. Chest X-Ray
A chest x-ray is a radio-graphic examination of the lungs, heart, large arteries, ribs, and diaphragm. A chest x-ray can be performed in a radiology lab, doctor's office or at your bedside if you are in the hospital.
Your doctor will perform an initial chest x-ray to help him reach a diagnosis of emphysema, and then intermittently throughout your treatment to monitor your progress.
Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) are performed to assess lung function and determine the degree of damage to the lungs.
In patients with emphysema, there may be an increase in total lung capacity (amount of air that is in the lungs after a deep breath) but a decrease in vital capacity (amount of air that can be forced out of your lungs after a deep breath) and forced expiratory volume (amount of air that can be forced out of your lungs in the first second of a forced exhalation).
Arterial blood gases (ABGs) are performed by taking blood from an artery. They help your doctor determine how well your lungs provide adequate oxygen to your body and how well they remove carbon dioxide.
Read more about ABGs.
The complete blood count (CBC) is a screening test done on your blood which is used to diagnose and manage a variety of different diseases, including emphysema. A CBC is usually done during your initial physical examination then periodically to monitor your condition. Besides being able to detect abnormalities in your blood cells, a CBC also tells your doctor if you have an infection that could be associated with emphysema.
The importance of obtaining an early diagnosis of emphysema cannot be overemphasized. With early diagnosis, comes early treatment. Early treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and lead to a higher quality of life.
If you have signs and symptoms of emphysema, it is important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible in order for a definitive diagnosis to be made.
For more information about emphysema, contact your healthcare provider.
Source: Smeltzer, Suzanne & Bare, Brenda. "Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing". Eighth Edition. Lippincott Publishers. 1996.
Smeltzer, Suzanne & Bare, Brenda. "Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing". Eighth Edition. Lippincott Publishers. 1996.