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How do I perform a spirometry test?

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  • Article: Understanding spirometry
  • Author: Linda Pearce is respiratory nurse consultant and clinical lead, Suffolk COPD Services, West Suffolk Hospital

This article tells you about:

  • What spirometry is and why it is used
  • How to decide whether a patient is suitable for spirometry testing
  •  How to perform spirometry
  • What the results show
  • Which patients are not suitable for spirometry

You would be likely to reference this article if you were researching:

  • Respiratory nursing
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Lung function
  • Asthma
  • Cystic fibrosis

In what situations will this article be useful to me?

If you are caring for a patient who is experiencing respiratory problems that are undiagnosed or with a diagnosed respiratory disorder that needs to be monitored. Spirometry is considered to be the “gold standard” method of assessing lung function. It should be used:

  • For patients presenting with undiagnosed respiratory symptoms such as wheeze, cough and dyspnoea (difficulty in breathing or in catching the breath)
  • For patients with suspected COPD
  • To monitor patients with diagnosed long-term respiratory conditions

 Questions for your mentor/tutor

  • How do I perform a spirometry test?
  • What should I do with the results?

Student Nursing Times Decoder

  • Spirometry: A method of measuring the speed and volume of air expelled from the lungs
  • FVC: Forced vital capacity – the amount of air that can be forcibly expelled from the lungs after maximum inspiration
  • FEV1: Forced expiratory volume in one second - the volume of air exhaled during the first second of a forced expiration
  • FEV1/FVC ratio: The percentage of the FVC expired in the first second of a forced expiration
  • VC:Vital capacity – the total volume of air expelled in a forced expiration after maximum inspiration
  • PEF:Peak expiratory flow – the highest flow achieved during a forced expiration, measured in litres per minute


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