If you've been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, and medical insurance did not cover you at the time of your diagnosis, you might want to get a second opinion and request a spirometry test. It was found recently in a small study, that nearly half of uninsured patients diagnosed with COPD did not have the disease. These diagnoses were based only on the symptoms, and not by the somewhat expensive spirometry test, which is the only accurate way of finding out if one has COPD.
An overdiagnosis can be just as dangerous as an underdiagnosis since you would be getting treatment for something you don't have, and not for what is wrong. COPD can be severe to diagnose without the proper testing since the symptoms of COPD can be mistaken for the symptoms of other diseases, and vice versa.
What is a spirometry test and how does it work?
A spirometer is a machine that measures your lung function. A patient is asked to exhale as hard as they can into a mouthpiece, and a measurement is displayed on a monitor in the form of a graph. This graph will show the pulmonary physician how well your lungs are functioning at any given time. This is also very similar to how a Peak Flow meter displays your lung function. Someone with COPD or asthma will naturally have lower readings than people with healthy lungs, even during times when they seem to be breathing reasonably normally.
Other Tests Used to Diagnose COPD
To test for COPD, your doctor might also order other tests, such as a lung x-rays an ECG and an arterial blood gas test. An arterial blood gas test is also important because it will show the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. If your blood oxygen level is consistently below average, this is an indication of COPD. Your doctor will also determine your treatment based on the level of oxygen in your blood. A consistently very low level of oxygen will most likely require oxygen therapy.
If your physician doesn't run these tests due to your lack of medical coverage, go somewhere else. If you're having a hard time breathing, or if you're experiencing other symptoms that might lead you to believe that something is wrong, everything should be done to be sure exactly what it is.
Besides difficulty breathing, here are the other early symptoms of COPD:
- An increase in the amount and thickness of sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs), without having been previously sick with a cold or flu.
- An inability to concentrate that goes on for longer than a week.
- Swollen ankles and unexplained pain.
- A sudden loss or gain of body weight.
- You've been having trouble sleeping for no other explainable reasons.
- A general feeling of fatigue and lack of energy.
If you have any combination of any of these symptoms, you should waste no time in seeing your doctor. The sooner COPD (or any other disease) is caught, the better.