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How can I prepare for my lung function test?

Of all the medical exams you may undergo, a lung function test is one of the simplest and least invasive. The effort required to take the test will vary based on the severity of your condition, but it’s generally painless and takes less than an hour to complete. 

Lung function testing, also known as Pulmonary function testing (PFT), refers to breathing tests that assess lung health and diagnose a range of lung conditions. This test measures several aspects of a patient’s breath and lung capacity, including how much air remains in the lungs after a typical breath as well as how oxygen and carbon dioxide enter and exit the bloodstream. 

To make the test easier and ensure accurate results, there are steps you can follow in advance of your test. 

What we eat, drink, or consume as well as physical activity can affect how our lungs function. By taking some simple steps, patients can ensure they get the right diagnosis and the right treatment for their condition. 

Patient requirements before taking a lung function test:

• Avoid smoking or vaping for at least 1 hr before the test – Did you know a single puff of a vape or a cigarette can alter lung function and significantly decreases the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream? Smoking before a test can negatively impact the results. Beyond the test, abstinence from smoking and vaping is an important step towards improved lung function.

• Do not drink alcohol at least 8 hours before the test – Alcohol is known to cause inflammation and harm cells throughout the airway. This can significantly affect lung function test results.

• Avoid exercise 30 minutes before the test – Breathing capacity and the body’s ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the bloodstream can be impacted by physical activity. Consider saving your regular exercise routine until after your appointment. 

• Don’t wear tight clothing – This can make it difficult to take a deep breath, which is required for a PFT appointment.

• Don’t eat a large meal within 2 hours before the test – A full stomach can prevent your lungs from fully expanding. If you’ve ever felt the need to loosen a belt notch after a big meal, you’ll understand the effect of a full stomach can have on breathing capacity.

• Unless recommended by a doctor, avoid taking medications that open airways ahead of your test – This may give a false reading that does not affect the true state of your lung health. Such medications include inhalers. 

These are general guidelines. Since every case is different, your physician or clinician will give you specific instructions for you to follow before your pulmonary function test. 

Who should not have lung function testing?

PFT is safe for most patients. However, patients who have had a recent heart attack, stroke, or surgery are often not recommended to undergo pulmonary testing. Patients should ensure their physician or health practitioner is aware of any health conditions.  

Patients can return to normal activities after the test. Your family doctor will typically schedule a follow-up appointment to explain your test results and what they mean. 

Like all health issues, proper diagnosis of a lung condition is a critical first step towards proper treatment and restoring quality of life. By following the pre-testing guidelines, patients can help ensure an accurate assessment.

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