Testing for COPD - Part I: Imaging Tests
Last updated: March 2020
This is Part I of my experience with diagnostic testing for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. (Click here to read Part II.)
There are several kinds of tests that can help your doctor or specialist diagnose your COPD or tell which stage of it you are in. I have had a few of these and want to share my experience with you! Some were more pleasant than others.
Imaging tests for COPD
When I first started showing symptoms of breathing problems with bronchitis that lasted for over a month, my doctor took an x-ray of my chest. Looking back over my chart with the new image, he diagnosed me with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He also ordered a spirometry to see how fast and how much air I could blow out.
Later when he sent me to a pulmonologist she ordered a CT (computer tomography) scan and a pulmonary function test, or PFT, which helped gauge what was going on in my lungs. The pulmonologist also referred me to an allergy and asthma specialist who ordered allergy testing and a methacholine test that diagnoses asthma. My latest test was the six minute walking test to check if I qualified for emergency oxygen, which measured my blood oxygen saturation levels as I walked.
In this article I will go over the imaging tests I’ve had.
Using x-rays to look into COPD
My first test, the X-ray, was by far the easiest one. All I had to do was sit in front of the x-ray imager with my arms up and hold my breath for a few seconds. Then I turned sideways and did the same thing. Took five minutes total. I can handle a five minute sit down test.
My doctor showed me my x-rays and while I was thinking how very skinny I looked in them, he explained to me that the x-rays revealed that my lungs were inflamed. I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time (like, would I go up a bust size? That would be okay!) but now I know that means the bronchial tubes and their linings were swollen, making it hard for me to breathe and giving me a hacking cough to get rid of the mucus. Doc asked me four different times if I was a smoker and four different times I assured him I wasn’t. He told me my x-ray looked like I’d smoked heavily for 20 years. Great.
A CT scan can also aid in a COPD diagnosis
The second imaging test I had, the CT scan, was my next favorite. The worst part was getting an IV for the contrast dye. Ouch. The test itself took less time than I thought it would. I got dressed in one of those very fashionable patient wraps and the technician led me into a darkened room with what looked like the Stargate with a table running through it. The technician positioned me on my back with my knees up and then the platform moved gently into the open scanner which softly whirred as it did its thing. Then the technician injected the dye through the IV, which spread warmth through my body, and the scanner whirred again and I nearly fell asleep, I was so comfy. They really ought to play some kind of water music. Then I’d be a goner for sure. If this is what COPD testing is like, I thought, I could ace it. Although I did not see my CT scan results, I later learned it showed scarring in my left lung. Again, great.
Imaging tests are helpful in determining COPD
So the imaging tests for COPD were helpful for diagnosing my breathing problems and determining just exactly what was going on in my lungs. They were also relatively painless and over quickly.
In my next article, I will go over the different types of breathing tests I’ve gone through in my COPD journey. In short, they were miserable. Until next time.
What stage was your COPD diagnosed as?