Diabetes Basics
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Dear Diabetes: What Is a Spirometry Test?

The basics of measuring lung function

A spirometry test is the most common procedure used by doctors to measure lung capacity. This simple, noninvasive test may be given as part of a person’s annual physical exam, especially if they live with a chronic breathing condition or are a current or ex-smoker. The test may help diagnose certain types of lung disease, discover the cause of shortness of breath or check the effects of medication.

How it works

Taking a spirometry test requires inhaling as deeply as possible and then exhaling forcefully into a tube attached to a machine called a spirometer. It’s important to keep your mouth fully closed around the mouthpiece so that air doesn’t escape. In some cases, you may be given a soft nose clip to wear during the procedure to ensure that no air leaks out of your nostrils while exhaling.

You may be asked to repeat the procedure a second or third time. If so, the doctor or technician will use the highest of the three scores as your final result.

How to prepare

Avoid heavy meals and wear loose clothing during the test so that it’s easier to breathe. Smokers should refrain from smoking at least four hours before testing. Tell your doctor if you regularly use a bronchodilator or an inhaler medication.

The test is generally safe, although some people may experience a brief period of dizziness or shortness of breath after taking it. It is not recommended for people with certain heart conditions. In rare cases, the test may trigger breathing problems.

The results

The results of a spirometry test are usually available upon completion of the procedure. The test will show how much air your lungs can hold and how quickly you can expel it, alerting your doctor to any potential breathing issues you may be experiencing. Your age, height, ethnicity and gender may all be factored into your results. Talk with your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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