What is a Pulmonary Function Test (PFT)?
A Pulmonary Function Test is a type of clinical examination that gauges the lung function of patients (if they are inhaling and exhaling oxygen normally) and determines the kind of respiratory conditions they might be dealing with or developing, such as Asthma, Pulmonary Fibrosis, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
They come in different types but are always non-invasive breathing tests, meaning the clinician conducting the test won’t insert tools or instruments into your body. The most common Pulmonary Function Test is the Spirometry Test, which is the type of PFT that we will focus on in this mini-guide.
The Spirometry Test assesses the volume of air that a patient can inhale and exhale using a spirometer, which measures the following:
- Forced Vital Capacity (FVC), which is the greatest amount of air that a patient can forcefully breathe out after inhaling as deeply as they possibly could
- Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV1), which is the amount of air that a patient can forcefully breathe out in one second
Through these measurements, the Spirometry Test will give healthcare professionals a clear picture of a patient’s lung capacity, airflow limitations, and if their lungs are afflicted with obstructive airways or restrictive lung disease.
How to conduct the Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test (PFT)?
Before you conduct the Spirometry Test on a patient, you should know that it has to be scheduled and cannot be done on the spot because it requires the following from the patient:
- If the patient is dealing with asthma, they shouldn’t take a long-acting, once-daily inhaler within 36 hours before the test
- If they use long-acting, twice-daily inhalers, they shouldn’t take them 24 hours before the test
- They should not drink alcohol or take other intoxicants within 8 hours before the test
- If they use short-acting reliever inhalers, they shouldn’t take them within 4 hours before the test
- They shouldn’t take eat a large meal during the 2 hours before the test
- They shouldn’t drink caffeinated or decaffeinated products during the 2 hours before the test
- They shouldn’t smoke for at least 1 hour before the test
- They should not partake in heavy exercise for at least 1 hour before the test
On the scheduled day of the Spirometry Test, you must have a Spirometer prepared. Once the device is prepared, and the patient is ready, just do the following:
- Tell your patient to sit upright with their feet flat on the floor
- Hand the spirometer mouthpiece to the patient and have them place it in their mouth. Make sure that their lips are tightly sealed around the mouthpiece
- Tell the patient to take a deep breath until their lungs are full
- After inhaling deeply, have them blow out all the air as fast and for as long as possible until all the air has been exhaled or if they can no longer blow out the air
- Have your patient remove the mouthpiece to catch their breath and have them breathe normally for a bit because this test can be exhausting
- Repeat this test two more times or up to eight times (if you believe it’s best to have the patient do so)
How to interpret the findings of the Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test (PFT)
Once you’re done with the Spirometry Test, tell your patient to return in a few days to claim their results. You’re likely to be busy with other patients, so you’re probably not going to be able to calculate everything immediately. But once you have the time, just make sure to take note of the following designations for both FVC and FEV1:
You must also calculate the ratio of the FVC and the FEV1. The equation for this is:
FEV1 ÷ FVC = Ratio (%)
After calculating the FEV1/FVC ratio, refer to these designations:
You will likely conduct this test three times (which is standard). The one with the best results out of the three will be the final result.
If you conducted this test eight times (the maximum), take the three best results, then the best of the best will be the final result.
Just as a reminder, if the scores fall below normal, then they’re considered abnormal. If the FVC is abnormal, the lungs are restricted from reaching their normal air capacity which is indicative of a restrictive lung disease.
On the other hand, if the FEV1 and the FEV1/FVC ratio are abnormal, there is a decrease in airflow in their lungs which is indicative of obstructive lung disease.
Explain your findings well to the patient when they return and discuss the treatment plan you’ve drawn up for them.
Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test Example
Now that you know what the Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test is all about, we’d like you to know that we at Carepatron created a Spirometry Test Sheet for you to jot down the basic results of a Spirometry Test, which are the FVC, FEV1, and the ratio between the two. Spirometry Tests usually come with graphs and other calculations, but this one should serve as a way to make it easier to understand for the layman. You can attach it alongside the more comprehensive results!
If you like what you see and believe it’ll make a good addition to your Spirometry Test result sheets, feel free to download it from our platform! It’s free. It’s also printable, but you can go paperless and jot down your calculations using the editable parts of the Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test PDF.
When is it best to conduct a Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test?
There are several appropriate times to conduct the Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test (PFT). Here are two of the usual times when it is best to conduct this test:
- Screening and diagnosing patients for lung diseases:
If a patient presents during a consultation to discuss their coughs, and during this consultation, they cough, wheeze, have mucus, run out of breath, etc., then it is likely they have lung disease or, at least, is developing one. Schedule them for a Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test so you can assess them as soon as possible.
If you have a patient with a medical history that details their family having respiratory diseases, or if the record shows they have had lung disease or have been exposed to things that can irritate the lungs, then you can recommend this test to check how at risk they are of developing one.
- Monitoring the lung disease:
Let’s say that the Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test has detected the presence of restrictive or obstructive lung disease, and other tests confirmed and diagnosed the patient with such. The test can be used as part of a routine check-up to gauge the progression of the disease and see if it’s getting worse or better.
Who can conduct the Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test?
The Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test is specifically made to assess a patient’s lungs. This means that the test can be conducted by healthcare professionals who specialize in treating people for lung-related afflictions. These professionals include:
- Pulmonologists - It’s in the name of the test. Pulmonologists are doctors who have been highly trained to not only assess the patient’s lungs but also to treat them based on their assessments. They are knowledgeable enough about the lungs to make informed interpretations of Pulmonary Function Test results and use those results to determine what goes into their patient’s treatment
- Respiratory Therapists - These professionals usually work closely with pulmonologists to assist them with certain procedures and tests. They are also knowledgeable about the lungs and treating them, so they can be relied on to conduct such tests. Not only that, but they can help treat the patient by developing rehabilitation plans to restore the patient’s lungs to normalcy.
- General Physicians (including Family Physicians) - While they might not specialize in treating lungs, many are trained to conduct Pulmonary Function Tests. After gathering results, they can refer the patient to specialists like Pulmonologists for treatment.
It’s best to leave the Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test to experts such as these so you can trust the results to be accurate and well-interpreted. It’s a test specifically to assess the lungs of the patient, so it’s only appropriate that the test should be limited to healthcare professionals who are trained to examine and treat patients for lung problems.
What are the benefits of the Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test?
It is an objective test that can be relied on to deliver accurate results.
This particular Pulmonary Function Test uses the Spirometer, which measures the volume of air that a patient can inhale and exhale. All the calculations and results will be based on the measurements recorded each time the test is repeated (three is standard, eight is the maximum). There are score designations that professionals will follow as well. Certain score ranges will determine the severity of their lung problem, and they can help the professional determine if the patient has restrictive or obstructive lung disease.
It can determine if a patient is at risk of developing lung problems.
If a patient has a medical history or record that shows they are related to people with respiratory problems, they might be at risk of developing the same problems down the line! It’s also natural to discuss with your patient if they are exposed to lung irritants. Maybe they work in mines (hopefully not!) or do construction work, exposing them to dust and powder. Perhaps, they paint (the fumes can irritate the lungs), or they tend to be surrounded by smokers.
You can screen them for potential problems using the Spirometry Pulmonary Function Test. Inform them about the test and its purpose first, though. Even if they don’t have symptoms now, that doesn’t mean they are clear. Who knows? You might end up with results that point to the development of lung disease. If ever, you can find ways to treat and manage it early before it gets worse.
It can be used to monitor patients and treatment plans.
Earlier in this guide, we mentioned that Spirometry can be used as a monitoring test to check on the progression of lung disease. The results of retests can be used to determine if whatever treatment plan you implemented is working. If the patient’s breathing is better (completely or just a little bit compared to the initial test), then the plan is working and should be maintained! If the breathing is still the same or is getting worse, then you might want to reevaluate your plan and make some changes to see if they will do the trick.
It can be used to screen athletes.
While this is not necessarily a medical benefit, the Spirometry Test can be used to determine if athletes can take on certain strenuous activities. Many sports require good respiratory health and cardio, so this test checks if athletes can take on activities within their respective sports. Coaches can adjust their training plans to prevent certain athletes from dealing with risks because their lung capacities can’t handle them.
Why use Carepatron for pulmonological work?
If you are a pulmonologist or a related healthcare professional, we recommend you take the time to check out the Carepatron platform. We have numerous features that can benefit you and your pulmonological work!
One of the features we’re most proud of is our resource library. It houses numerous worksheets, assessment templates, survey templates, general treatment plan templates, and a whole lot more. It also covers numerous healthcare fields as well, including yours!
Since you will likely be treating people for their asthma, we’d like you to know that we have an Asthma Treatment Plan template where you can indicate the peak flow of your patient and provide directives if they reach certain thresholds. You can even download the template for free!
Another feature that we know you’ll like is our nifty storage system, which allows you to store your clinical documents with us in a HIPAA-compliant manner. If you store them with us, only you and the people you permit to can access them. Even we can’t check them out!
If you downloaded our Spirometry template, you can store filled-out copies with us along with other results and graphs related to the Spirometry results. Storing them with us is the same as creating back-ups of your files, so just in case you lose your physical copies, you can re-download them from the storage and reprint them!
We at Carepatron are committed to helping healthcare professionals with their work, so take advantage of our platform so we can find ways to streamline your workflows and help you preserve your work!