Spirometry is a simple and widely used lung function test. A spirometry is a test that measures airflow when we breath and that can show possible abnormalities in the airways and lung tissue.
On this site we will try to explain in an easy to understand manner the different spirometry tests, the different measurement types used for measuring the flow and on interpreting spirometry and flow-volume loop.
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Spirometry is becoming more and more important, as respiratory diseases are increasing rapidly. Spirometry is the method of choice for a fast and reliable screening of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
COPD is mortality cause n° 12 worldwide at the moment. In Western countries it is even ranked n°4. Specialists expect COPD to climb to n°3 in the year 2020 in this macabre list! In the USA every 4 minutes someone dies from COPD!
Fortunately COPD can be avoided in most cases: 85-90% of COPD cases are caused by tobacco smoking.
the evolution of mortality of the important chronic diseases:
only COPD mortality is increasing rapidly
It is very important that COPD is discovered as soon as possible. The graph below shows that spirometry is the prefered method for an early screening of COPD. Using spirometry one can discover COPD 10 to 15 years earlier than with the other conventional methods, like symptoms, blood gases and chest X-rays.
diagnosis of COPD using different methods
green: no visible signs, red: very important changes
A drop in the parameters measured by spirometry tests is often the first sign of COPD. The most important parameters are FEV1 (Forced Expiratory Volume in the 1st second), PEF (Peak Expiratory Flow), FVC (Forced Vital Capacity), FEV1/FVC ratio (Tiffeneau index) and FEF25-75 (Forced Expiratory Flow between 25 and 75% of the FVC).
Spirometry is equally important in the diagnosis and follow-up of asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Considering the importance of respiratory diseases on public healthcare and the economy, it is clear that spirometry deserves a lot more attention as it is a simple and inexpensive test.