How is COPD Diagnosed?

People with COPD usually have one or more of these symptoms:

  • a cough that lasts a long time, and is filled with mucus
  • feeling short of breath, especially when making an effort (climbing stairs, exercising)
  • many lung infections that last a long time (the flu, acute bronchitis, pneumonia, etc.)
  • wheezing (a whistling sound while breathing)
  • constantly feeling tired (fatigue)
  • losing weight without trying

People might think that feeling short of breath is a normal sign of aging— but it’s not. If you have these signs and symptoms, see your doctor

Your Doctor will assess your physical condition and discuss COPD with you. There are three common tests used to assist in diagnosing COPD:

Spirometry

 Spirometry is a common, effective diagnostic test typically performed at a hospital or clinic. The machine measures how long it takes to blow out all the air from your lungs. The more blocked your airways, the longer it takes to blow the air out.

Chest x-ray

The x-ray will help the doctor see if there is damage to your lungs.

Blood Gas Test

Blood is drawn, usually from the wrist, to determine oxygen levels in the blood.

COPD Treatments

There is no cure for COPD, but there are good treatments:

  • Quitting smoking, and staying away from smoke and air pollution
  • Taking COPD medications, which can include pills and inhalers (puffers)
  • Home Oxygen Therapy
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation programs, where exercise and COPD management are taught

People with COPD can take other steps to manage their symptoms:

  • Recognize and treat COPD flare-ups (worsening symptoms)
  • Use special breathing techniques when experiencing shortness of breath
  • Make lifestyle changes to save energy and feel better: simplify chores, eat well, and make other healthy changes

Based on the British Medical Research Council (BMRC)1 and the nocturnal oxygen therapy (NOTT)2 studies, medical oxygen has been proven to be the only “drug” that has the ability to increase survival in COPD.

The Canadian Lung Association can help you:

Find A Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program in your area.

At HealthLink BC find information on:

What to expect at a Pulmonary  Rehabilitation Program 


1. A Clinical Trial. Continuous or Nocturnal Oxygen Therapy in Hypoxemic Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease – Annals of Internal Medicine 1980; 93: 391 – 398
2. Report from the Medical Research Council Working Party. Long Term Domiciliary Oxygen Therapy In Chronic Hypoxic Cor Pulmonale Complicating Chronic Bronchitis And Emphysema. The Lancet; March 1981, 681 – 686