How is COPD Diagnosed?

Dr. Don Sin, MD, FRCP, MPH, Respirologist talks about the symptoms of COPD and how it is diagnosed.

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Dr. Don Sin, MD, FRCP, MPH, Respirologist talks about the symptoms of COPD and how it is diagnosed.
Video transcript

Featuring Dr. Don Sin, MD, FRCP, MPH

Duration: 2 minutes, 29 seconds

The most common symptoms are shortness of breath with exercise; cough—cough that lasts more than three, four days, and is persistent; sputum production, or phlegm production; recurrent chest infections that is disproportionate in terms of severity to a common cold; and a history of exposures—either cigarette smoking, or living in heavy air pollution areas.

Those symptoms and signs will prompt a physician to think about COPD as a possible diagnosis. The most common diagnostic test for COPD is a simple breathing test; it’s called spirometry or lung function measurement. It can be done in your family physician’s office, or in a specialized lab, and it takes about 15 minutes to complete. You breathe in into this breathing machine, it gives you a number, and your doctor—based on those numbers—can diagnose you with COPD or something else.

Once you have COPD—once you’re diagnosed with COPD, regular monitoring with a breathing test on a yearly basis is recommended. The reason for that is that doctors would like to know how fast the COPD is progressing, or whether there have been significant improvement with therapies that have been instituted. If COPD is progressing very quickly, then stronger therapies will be warranted to halt the progression of COPD.

In some rare cases the diagnosis—even with a breathing test—may not be obvious, in which case your doctor may order additional tests to sort out COPD from other diagnostic possibilities. These include a CT scan of your chest, or even more advanced breathing tests, which may take up to an hour to complete. These tests are only reserved for those rare, exceptional cases where the diagnosis cannot be made with a simple breathing test.

If you have any additional questions about how COPD is diagnosed or monitored, please see your family physician.

Presenter: Dr. Don Sin, Respirologist, Vancouver, BC

Local Practitioners: Respirologist

This content is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.