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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Tests & Diagnosis

Often times, COPD can be diagnosed with a thorough performing a physical exam, gathering medical history and using a non-invasive test called spirometry.

The Diagnostic Process

If your doctor thinks you may have COPD, he or she will likely ask you questions about your health habits and your exposure to lung irritants. Questions may be:

  • Are you or were you a smoker?
  • What do you do for a living?
  • Do you think you may have spent time around indoor or outdoor air pollution?

He or she will also want to know what types of symptoms, if any, you've experienced or are experiencing. The following symptoms will aid in a diagnosis:

  • Cough
  • Mucus production when coughing
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

It’s important for you to be upfront and honest with your doctor because a detailed history will help with a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Your doctor will also do a physical exam that involves listening to your lungs. This is to listen for wheezing or other abnormal breathing sounds.


Once the examination is complete, there are a number of tests that may be needed to make an accurate diagnosis.


The most common test is spirometry. During a spirometry test, you will be asked to take a deep breath and exhale as hard as you can into a small tube. The tube is connected to a machine that measures the amount and speed of air you blow out.

Comprehensive Testing

At the Northwestern Memorial Asthma-COPD Program, we offer comprehensive testing that, in addition to office spirometry, includes:

  • Pulmonary function testing
  • Cardiopulmonary exercise testing
  • Six-minute walk testing
  • Methacholine bronchoprovocation
  • High-resolution CT scans
  • Flexible bronchoscopy

Screening for COPD

Testing can be useful to screen for COPD before symptoms are present. Often, people will have COPD long before they start noticing symptoms, and the earlier the disease is treated, the more effective the treatment will be. If you are or have been a smoker, we encourage you to talk to your doctor about whether or not screening for COPD is something to consider.

Contact Us

If you have or think you may have COPD, we urge you to seek treatment as soon as possible. If you don’t have a physician, and you’d like to make an appointment with someone who understands COPD and how to successfully manage it, you may do so by calling our Physician Referral Department at 1-877-926-4664. You may also request a first time appointment online.

Last UpdateJune 6, 2011