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How doctors make COPD diagnoses

New York residents whose doctors have recommended testing for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may have questions about what kinds of tests they will perform and how their doctor will arrive at their diagnosis. COPD is a serious disease that can escalate quickly without treatment, so a timely diagnosis is necessary.

Doctors may suspect COPD when their patients have persistent, mucus-producing coughs that will not go away, shortness of breath that worsens after physical activity or tightness in the chest. These symptoms may intensify during flare-ups. To make a COPD diagnosis, a doctor will consider the patient's symptoms, medical history, family history and diagnostic test results.

Patients with suspected COPD are often asked to perform lung function tests such as spirometry. This requires the patient to take a deep breath and blow into a tube connected to a machine that measures how much and how fast air is exhaled. Doctors might ask patients to repeat the test after taking inhalant medication to see if the results improve. They might also order chest CT scans or X-rays to rule out heart disease or other conditions that might be causing patient symptoms. Doctors might ask patients to give blood samples and order tests to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood. These tests can diagnose COPD and show how advanced it is, helping doctors determine the best course of treatment.

COPD is commonly mistaken for sinusitis, heart disease, asthma or other conditions that are treated much differently. Without the proper treatment, COPD patients may experience complications such as pneumonia, cardiovascular issues or respiratory failure. These complications often require intensive treatment that may have been unnecessary with a timely diagnosis. Medical malpractice attorneys may be able to advise victims of doctor misdiagnosis on their rights to file suit to seek compensation for their escalated COPD, medical bills and other damages.

Source: National Institutes of Health, "How is COPD Diagnosed?", July 31, 2013

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