Overview of Cardiopulmonary Testing
Cardiopulmonary Testing can measure the amount of oxygen that your body uses during times of stress and rest. There are a variety of tests that may be administered in an effort to see how your lungs are performing.
Simple Stress Test
A simple stress test, or also known as a 6 minute walk, can be easily administered in your physician’s office. This test is very noninvasive. This is a great test to check for pulmonary hypertension. It is a good first test and is a way to see how far the patient can walk. Once a diagnosis has been made and the treatment has started, then the physician can perform the six minute walk test again to see if you are improving. If improvement has not been made since the last test, then your physician will likely reevaluate treatment and may increase the dose. These follow up tests are a great way to see how you are improving and may be done frequently. To begin the test, the medical assistant or nurse will ask a series of questions and may take your vitals. Then you will begin to walk. The test must be administered the same way each time. During the test, you will wear a pulse oximeter which will measure pulse and oxygen.
Pulmonary Function Test
Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTS), are very common tests and are noninvasive. This test is able to measure the lung volume, gas exchange, lung capacity, and rates of flow. The information that is collected during this test will help your physician to know what treatment may be necessary. This test can be done on anyone, even if you think you are healthy. This test can help your physician to diagnose your breathing problems. It can test for: allergies, asbestosis, chronic lung conditions, infections, etc. There are no real risks to the test. Some people may experience an asthma attack, coughing, dizziness, shortness of breath, etc. You may feel tired after the test and you will have time to rest afterwards. Your physician will discuss your test results with you upon completion.
A spirometry test is very common and will show how much air you inhale, how much air you exhale, and how quickly you are able to do it. This test can be used to diagnose: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma, bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis, or bronchitis. If you have already been diagnosed with a chronic lung problem, then this test may be administered to see how well your medications are working. In some cases, the test is done prior to surgery to make sure that your lungs are ready for the stress. You will want to wear loose clothing that will not interfere with your breathing. You will be asked to breathe into a tube on a machine. The machine is called a spirometer. Listen carefully to the instructions that are given to you.
Plethysmography is a pulmonary function test that will see how much air is left into your lungs are you breathe out and how much air is in your lungs when you breathe in. This will show your physician how well your lungs are working and how they can help you feel better. They will use your test results to see what the standards are and what you are usually at. Your physician will keep up with your test results to decide when there will be a necessary change in treatment. This test may also be used to see if you are able to tolerate any procedures. Any of these lung function tests can be used individually or together to get a better picture of your health.
An EKG is used to record signals in the heart. This test is painless. This test is used to diagnose various problems with the heart that may also be leading to a variety of lung problems. Most people will also complain of shortness of breath in cases with their heart. There are no risks with this test. You may experience a slight discomfort when the bandages are removed. Your physician is looking for a consistent heart beat and if this proves to be irregular, it is a sign that there is an inadequate oxygen supply to the heart.
Nitrogen Washout Test
The nitrogen washout test is very simple. During the test, your pulmonologist is looking for dead space in the air sacs of the lungs. This usually occurs because of the nonfunctioning capillary that attaches to the air sacs. The dead space in the lungs with cause poor lung function and will also result in a lowered efficiency. The test can be done in one deep breath or a few breaths over a few minutes. You will breathe in on a machine and it will be pure oxygen. Then you will exhale as long as possible. When you exhale, the machine will read the amount of nitrogen that is in the air. If your breath is too shallow because of a pulmonary problem, then the nitrogen does not usually escape easily.
Chest x-rays are able to produce an image of the heart, lungs, blood vessels, airways, and bones of your chest. This x-ray can also show any fluid that may be surrounding the lungs. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, then this may be one of the first tests that are done. This will allow the physician to see if you are having any heart problems, a collapsed lung, broken ribs, cancer, etc. The chest x-ray may be used to reveal a number of problems, such as the condition of the lungs and heart related lung problems. There are generally no risks that are associated with this type of test, it is painless, and is very noninvasive. After the test is complete, the radiologist will read the test and discuss with your physician. Once your physician receives this test back, then your physician will discuss what treatment plan will be best for you.