Holy Family Hospital

Pulmonary Function Testing Center

Pulmonary function testing (PFT) is used in a variety of ways at Holy Family Hospital at Merrimack Valley in Haverilll. PFT can be used to establish baseline lung function, evaluate respiratory impairment, and evaluate operative risk. PFT can also be used in conjunction with smoking cessation classes.

PFT is often performed to diagnose certain types of lung disease (especially asthma, bronchitis and emphysema) and to determine the cause of shortness of breath. PFT can be used to monitor the effects of therapies used to treat respiratory disease, for example, it can also be used after the administration of medications, such as a bronchodilator to assess their effect and to measure progress in disease treatment.

PFT may be used to screen for lung function problems prior to employment in companies where employees use respirators or to measure whether occupational exposure to contaminants affects lung function, perform surveillance for occupational-related lung disease and screen for disability.

In addition, PFT may be used in conjunction with other test to effectively predict intraoperative and postoperative morbidity and mortality from pulmonary complications, the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) obtained from spirometry is a useful tool. Operative risk is heavily dependent on the surgical site, with chest surgery having the highest risk.

Patient-related factors associated with increased operative risk for pulmonary complications include preexisting pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary hypertension, dyspnea upon exertion, heavy smoking history, respiratory infection, cough (particularly productive cough) and advanced age.

How the Test is Performed

  • Spirometry: A person performs the test by breathing into mouthpiece that is connected to an instrument called a spirometer. The spirometer records the amount of air and the rate of air that is breathed in and out over a specified time. Some of the test measurements are obtained by normal, quiet breathing, and other tests require forced inhalation or exhalation after a deep breath.
  • Lung volume measurement: Lung volumes are measured by having the patient breathe nitrogen or helium gas through a breathing circuit for a specified period of time. The concentration of the gas in a chamber attached to the breathing circuit is measured, allowing estimation of the lung volume. The diffusion capacity is measured when a person breathes a small amount, usually 0.3 percent or less, of carbon monoxide for a very short time. The concentration of carbon monoxide in exhaled air is then measured. The difference in the amount of carbon monoxide inhaled and the amount exhaled allows estimation of how rapidly gas can travel from the lungs into the blood.

The ATS has published guidelines for a standardized technique that includes spirometer performance standards. All pulmonary function testing performed at Holy Family Hospital at Merrimack Valley meets ATS guidelines.


Pulmonary Function Testing Center
Respiratory Care Department
Holy Family Hospital at Merrimack Valley
140 Lincoln Avenue
Haverhill, MA. 01830

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