Pulmonary Function Tests
by Editorial Staff and Contributors
Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) are a group of breathing tests. They can show how well your lungs are working. PFTs may measure:
Reasons for Test TOP
PFTs may be used to diagnose lung conditions or diseases, such as:
These tests may also be done to:
Possible Complications TOP
There are no major complications associated with this procedure.
What to Expect TOP
Prior to Test
Description of Test
Most tests will require you to breathe into a mouthpiece. The mouthpiece may be attached to a simple handheld device or be part of a larger machine. Examples of devices are a spirometer or peak flow meter. You may be asked to breathe in and out in different patterns and speeds. You will rest between tests.
Tell the technician right away if you have breathing problems, pain, or dizziness during testing.
Other tests that may be used in some situations include:
After Test TOP
Rest until you feel able to leave. You may be given medication if testing has caused wheezing, coughing, and/or difficulty breathing.
How Long Will It Take? TOP
Will It Hurt? TOP
The test does not hurt. You may feel symptoms of your lung condition during or immediately following testing.
Your doctor will compare the results of your tests with normal values based on your age, gender, and height, or previous test results. Your doctor will discuss the results with you and decide if further testing or treatment is needed.
Call Your Doctor TOP
After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:
American Lung Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Barreiro TJ, Perillo I. An approach to interpreting spirometry. Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(5):1107-1115.
Birnbaum S, Barreiro TJ. Methacholine challenge testing: identifying its diagnostic role, testing, coding, and reimbursement. Chest. 2007;131(6):1932-1935.
Chang J, Mosenifar Z. Differentiating COPD from asthma in clinical practice. J Intensive Care Med. 2007;22(5):300-309.
Chu MW, Han JK. Introduction to pulmonary function. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2008;41(2):387-396.
Crapo RO, Casaburi R, Coates AL, et al. Guidelines for methacholine and exercise challenge testing (1999). Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2000;161(1):309-329.
Pulmonary function studies. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated January 1, 2011. Accessed August 6, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at email@example.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.