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Pulmonary Function Testing Helps Diagnose Lung Conditions


Knowing your numbers – blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, etc. – is a big part of modern healthcare, yet patients with breathing trouble often don’t realize that lung capacity numbers can be a diagnostic factor too.

In fact, learning your lung capacity numbers through a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT) can be a key factor in diagnosing asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis and other conditions.

“We love to remind staff, patients and families that PFTs can help doctors fine-tune treatment options to improve lives,” said Donna Villano, director of Respiratory Therapy, Cardio-Pulmonary Services and the Sleep Center for L+M and Westerly hospitals.

Vicki Frausini-Moran, RRT, left, and Bernie Santore, RRT, show off the pulmonary testing equipment at L+M Hospital


A PFT includes breathing into a machine in a number of different ways, depending on what tests have been ordered. A typical test can last about 45 minutes. “We’re also testing a lot of post-COVID patients,” Villano said. “We’re seeing long haulers who have major lung capacity issues from the disease.”

Other benefits of testing help to determine which of many treatments will work for the patient. For example, a bronchodilator is a type of medication that relieves the symptoms of many lung conditions by quickly relaxing the muscle bands that tighten around airways. Testing a COPD patient with a bronchodilator might help providers determine if the patient will benefit from an inhaler, which could be a life-changing improvement in a patient’s condition. Or, a longtime smoker could find out if they have COPD. A Methacholine Challenge PFT can diagnosis asthma. Some COPD patients are also tested to ensure their insurance will approve participation in a hospital Pulmonary Rehab program.

From left, Jackie Tripp, RRT, clinical coordinator, Joyce Westervelt, RRT, and Renee Clinton, RRT, lead Outpatient RT, pose with the pulmonary testing equipment at Westerly Hospital


“Talk to your doctor and know your numbers,” Villano said. “If you’re a past smoker and you’re experiencing shortness of breath, it’s time to seek care to determine if you have COPD or another treatable lung condition and get the right medication.