Your doctor will likely ask whether you smoke and whether you have had contact with lung irritants, like air pollution, dust, secondhand smoke, or chemical fumes. Your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen for wheezing or other abnormal sounds in your chest.
Your doctor may recommend tests to determine whether you have emphysema:
- Lung function tests: measure how much air you can breathe in and out, how fast you can breathe out, and how well your lungs deliver oxygen to the blood. The most common lung function test is called spirometry and measures how much air you can breathe out after taking a deep breath and how fast you can expel the air. COPD cannot be diagnosed without this important test.
- Imaging tests: chest X-rays may show that the lungs are overinflated but they cannot confirm COPD or emphysema. They may also help your doctor to rule out other causes of shortness of breath. However, X-ray images may appear normal even if you have emphysema. If you are considering lung surgery, your doctor might recommend computerized tomography (CT) scans, which provide cross-section images of the body’s organs. The CT scan will show whether or not the airflow obstruction is due to emphysema.
- Blood tests: blood is taken from an artery in the wrist and can be tested to show how well your lungs are transferring oxygen into the blood and carbon dioxide out of the bloodstream. Also, your doctor may check for low levels of alpha-1-antitrypsin. Some individuals will not make enough of this protein which protects the lung and they will develop emphysema often at a younger age.