What is pulmonary function testing?

Pulmonary Function Testing

Pulmonary or lung function testing includes various tests that measure how well your lungs are working. Doctors use pulmonary function testing to diagnose and manage many diseases that affect your lungs and breathing. These diseases commonly include asthma, cystic fibrosis, blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism), and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Pulmonary function testing is only one method of diagnosing and managing respiratory diseases. Discuss all the testing and monitoring methods with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.

Types of pulmonary function testing

Common types of pulmonary function testing include:

  • Arterial blood gas test to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and other factors in the blood 
  • Body plethysmography to measure how much air is in your lungs when you take a deep breath and how much air remains in your lungs after you exhale as much as you can
  • Bronchoprovocation tests to measure lung function after exposure to factors that commonly trigger asthma. This includes a methacholine challenge test to help diagnose asthma.
  • Lung diffusion capacity to measure how well oxygen moves into your blood from your lungs
  • Peak expiratory flow to measure the speed of exhaling and lung constriction. People with asthma often use this test routinely to monitor their asthma control.
  • Pulse oximetry to measure oxygen levels in the blood
  • Spirometry to measure the amount of air and the rate that you inhale and exhale

Pulmonary function tests are sometimes done at the same time using the same equipment. Body plethysmography, spirometry, bronchoprovocation tests, and lung diffusion capacity are often performed at the same time.

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 14, 2013

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Medical References

An Approach to Interpreting Spirometry. American Academy of Family Physicians. Accessed June 15, 2013.
Body Plethysmography. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Accessed June 15, 2013.
Body Plethysmography. Morgan Scientific, Inc. Accessed June 15, 2013.
Bronchoprovocation testing. Wolters Kluwer Health. Accessed June 15, 2013.
Diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide. Wolters Kluwer Health. Accessed June 15, 2013.
Lung Diffusion Capacity Testing (DLCO). National Jewish Health. Accessed June 15, 2013.
Methacholine Challenge Testing: Identifying Its Diagnostic Role, Testing, Coding, and Reimbursement. American College of Chest Physicians. Accessed June 15, 2013.
Peak Flow Meter. Wexner Medical Center. Accessed June 15, 2013.
Peak Flow Meter. Tips to Remember. Accessed June 15, 2013.
Spirometry: how to take a lung function test. European Lung Foundation YouTube video. Accessed June 15, 2013.
Spirometry to measure breathing. University of Washington. Accessed June 15, 2013.

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