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Diagnosing Interstitial Lung Disease

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?

  • Have you been exposed to dust, asbestos, or other pollutants?

  • Do you smoke or use illegal drugs?

  • Have you been exposed to radiation therapy?

  • Have you had a lung infection?

  • What medications do you take?

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


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 and into your lungs. 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 check for damage or inflammation in your lungs.

  • Surgical lung biopsy. This test removes samples of your lung tissue through one or more incisions made between your ribs or in your chest. The tissue samples are often larger than those taken with bronchoscopy. They may provide more accurate diagnosis of your lung problem.

Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs)

PFTs are done in the doctor’s office or in the hospital lab. 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 much air you can take into your lungs and how much air you can blow out (vital capacity).

  • 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.


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