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Interstitial Lung Disease: Diagnosis

When you have interstitial lung disease, your lungs become scarred. This makes it hard for you to breathe. To diagnose interstitial lung disease, your doctor needs to know about your job, lifestyle, and symptoms. Your doctor will listen to your lungs and heart and examine your nose and throat. Tests may also be ordered.

Man having Lung functions test done in doctor's office.

Your Medical History

You may be asked some of these questions:

  • Do you have shortness of breath?

  • what medications do you take?

  • Have you breathed in any harmful substances over a long period of time? For example, molds, chemicals, or asbestos, silica, or coal dust.

  • Do you smoke?

  • Have you had radiation therapy? for example, to treat cancer.

  • Have you had lung infections?

  • Is there a family history of lung disease or connective tissue disorders?

What Tests Will You Need?

You may need routine blood tests and a chest x-ray. Other tests may include:

  • ECG (electrocardiogram). This test checks your heart rhythm. It helps rule out heart disease as the cause of your shortness of breath.

  • CT (computed tomography) scan. This test produces a detailed image of your lungs.

  • Pulse oximetry. This test measures the level of oxygen in your blood at rest and with exercise.

  • Exercise treadmill test. This checks how well your heart and lungs work when you’re active.

  • Bronchoscopy. This test allows the doctor to look inside your airways with a thin, lighted tube called a bronchoscope. The bronchoscope is passed through your mouth, yur throat, and then into the bronchi and into your lungs. Special tools may be passed through the bronchoscope to remove small samples of your lung tissue. This is called a biopsy. The tissue samples can help your provider find out whether you have interstitial lung disease.

  • Surgical lung biopsy. This test removes samples of your lung tissue through one or more incisions made in your chest. This method may be necessary when other techniques aren't successful, or when large tissue samples are needed. 

Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs)

PFTs may be done at your provider's office or at another facility or hospital. You may be tested both before and after taking medication. And you may have to repeat the tests from time to time during your treatment. Your doctor may order:

  • Spirometry. This test measures how well your lungs work. A common measurement is air you can bearthe out, or exhale, and how much air you can exhale it.

  • Lung volume tests. These measure how much air you inhale and how much air is left in your lungs after you exhale.

  • Lung diffusion test. This estimates how much oxygen is transported from the tiny air sacs in your lungs (alveoli) to your blood.

  • 6-minute walk test. This test measures the total distance you are able to walk. Your oxygen levels are also checked.


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