Everything you need to know about spirometry
There are two main classes of diagnostic investigations that are used in regards to the pulmonary system to diagnose and manage disease processes; they are classified as Pulmonary Function Tests, and one of the subcategories is spirometry. Over the last decade or so, there have been advances that have increased the value of this particular lung function investigation. Spirometry is used as part of the management of many lung diseases including COPD and asthma today.
What is spirometry?
Spirometry is a medical examination that quantifies lung function performed by a certified health practitioner. It is an instrumental part of diagnosing any lung disease(s) that the patient may have. The investigation is also performed after an initial analysis to understand how the problem progresses or how different treatments affect the lungs.
Spirometry has become one of the most utilized procedures due to its ability to evaluate the competence of the lungs and measure the capacity of the individual to inhale and exhale with ease. Often people who experience lung issues have difficulty in breathing, and so this test is crucial in validating the patient's’ condition. Some illnesses that can be identified are cystic fibrosis, emphysema, asthma, heart disease, pneumonia, pleural effusions, pneumothoraces, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and other causes of restrictive air movement and difficulty breathing.
This procedure is effective in tracking the effectiveness of medical treatments over time and monitoring overall lung function in high-risk patients, such as those who have a history of lung disease in the family, are of an advanced age, or have been diagnosed with chronic respiratory illnesses.
What is a spirometer?
The examination can only happen if a spirometer machine is available. This apparatus comes with a sensor and a mouthpiece in which the patient can inhale and exhale into during the testing period. The device is connected to a customized computer that can generate a graph, but there are newer versions that allow the individual to link the medical instrument to a handheld gadget.
The device works quite simply. It calculates the amount of air that the person inhales and takes note of how fast they exhale. After blowing into the mouthpiece as per the doctor’s instructions, the machine will tally the data and produce numerical results that a specialist can interpret for the patient.
A spirometer often gives off reliable results that are beneficial for diagnosing and treating disease. Low numbers on a spirometry test can indicate that you have trouble exhaling air from your lungs for example, as is seen in conditions like COPD. Whereas, certain lung issues such as asthma require further evaluation as the lungs can appear clean and issue-free unless an attack is taking place.
What investigations can be performed with a spirometer
● Forced Vital Capacity
During this test, a patient breathes in as deeply as they can and then blows out as hard and fast as they can, for a period of six seconds, into a tube that is connected to a device that measures the pressure and force with which a person exhales. This measurement is called the Forced Vital Capacity, or FVC, of a patient’s lungs.
● Forced Expiratory Volume
The FVC diagnostic test also measures the FEV1, which is the strength and amount of the first outburst of air from a person’s lungs. FEV1 is an abbreviation for Forced Expiratory Volume in One Second. A ratio of these two measurements can be used in treatment as well, and the equation is FEV1/FVC. To be considered healthy, the percentage must equal 70% or greater.
● Forced Expiratory Flow
This measurement is calculated by taking an average of the volume per second flow rate during the midpoint in the flow test ( FEF 25-75).
● Vital Capacity
This measurement records the total volume of air moved, in liters, during a normal breath. This measurement usually reflects about 80% of total lung volume because some air is generally retained in the lungs in between breaths.
● Maximum Voluntary Ventilation
During this test, a patient breathes as rapidly and deeply as they can for a 15 second time period. An average of these breaths is calculated in liters per second and is used as a guide to how strong the patient's respiratory muscles are and how much endurance they have.
Who needs a Spirometry investigation?
People who are advised to undergo spirometry are those who experience shortness of breath or have their airways blocked by mucus. Moreover, athletes may also use portable spirometers during practice and games to check the capability of their lungs.
How do I prepare for the examination?
While there are no stringent precautions that patients need to follow before a spirometry, it is common practice to wear comfortable and loose-fitting garments to facilitate easy breathing. In case the individual is a smoker or a heavy eater, they are advised not to smoke or consume excessive amounts of food the day before the examination. The idea of these precautions is to make sure that the person can breathe normally and in a relaxed manner, as well as provide more accurate results.
What can someone who will go through spirometry expect during the examination?
This exam is non-invasive and is assessed while the patient is either standing or sitting. The technician’s job is to ensure the patient is in a comfortable and upright position so that nothing restricts the air passages. If this individual slouches or lies down, there is a high possibility that the breathing will be shorter, and the results will therefore not become accurate. Often a nose plug is used to keep air from flowing out through the nose during the test. The procedure is also repeated two or three times to ensure that the measurements are reading correctly and there are no technical issues to work out.
Before the effective investigation begins, the administrator will give full and detailed instructions on what is expected of you. You will take a deep breath in, and then breath out hard and fast, with as much force as you can. You should continue to breath out for about six seconds, or until the machine beeps to let you know all measurements have been calculated. You may be asked to repeat this multiple times, and you may be asked to complete a contrasting measurement after an inhaled medication is administered. This type of test will measure the effectiveness of the drug.
While the technician performing the investigation will not be able to tell you how well you have done right away, the patient can usually obtain the results within the same day. The spirometer machine can efficiently process the information and quickly generates a graph. After these results are generated, a pulmonary specialist reviews them to speak to you about them and possible courses of treatment for any abnormal values. The main issues that will be shown by this test are whether or not your lungs are restrictive or obstructive. Each of these conditions suggests a particular disease process which will dictate your future treatment options.
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