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PFT - Pulmonary Function Test refers to one or different types of tests that are conducted on a patient to assess the condition of the lungs and their efficiency in transferring oxygen to the blood. PFT can help diagnosing the cause of 'shortness of breath' and confirm lung diseases like Emphysema, Bronchitis and Asthma. PFT aids in measuring occupational hazards of exposure to contaminants such as asbestos or radon. It helps monitoring of disease treatment. These tests are mandatory before any major lung surgery. However, PFT is not given to patients who had a recent heart attack or has a history of heart disease.

Spirometry is a vital PFT that measures how well the lungs exhale. This diagnostic test is prescribed for patients suffering from asthma or COPD. This tests involves breathing into a mouthpiece that is connected to a spirometer. The amount of air and rate of exhalation are measured over a specific time.

Peak Expiratory Flow Rate - PEFR meter is a handheld device that measures the rate of exhalation in a patient. This PEFR test results can vary depending upon a number of factors - age, height and sex. So peak flow meters are mostly useful for monitoring the medications of some Asthma patients.

Lung volume measurement test can aid detection of restrictive lung diseases. Such patients are often unable to inhale normal volumes of air due to inflammation or scarring of lung tissue. This PFT can be done as a body plethysmograph.

Gas diffusion test measures the amount of oxygen and other gases that are absorbed into your body from your lungs.

Inhalation challenge test aids in identifying possible allergens that can cause asthma or severe respiratory allergy. Other tests to measure lung function include residual volume, gas diffusion tests, body plethysmography, inhalation challenge tests, and exercise stress tests.

Patients scheduled for PFT must restrain from use of bronchodilators or inhaler medications for few hours prior to the test. Patients are advised not to eat a heavy meal or smoke for a few hours prior to the PFT. Typical normal values for pulmonary function tests are based on the age, height, ethnicity, and sex of the person being tested. Factors such history of smoking, wheezing and obesity can affect results of PFT. Pulmonary function tests are not advised for patients who have recently suffered heart attack.

Black lung disease

Black lung disease is a layman term used for coal workers' Pneumoconiosis or CWP. It is an occupational lung disease normally developed by mine workers who are continuously exposed to coal dust. Over a period of few years, the coal dust starts to accumulate in the lungs and turns them black instead of healthy pink. That is why the condition is known as black lung disease.

Our lungs are not capable of expelling the dust and that leads to scar tissues in the organ. When the disease progresses, simple coal workers' pneumoconiosis may develop into Progressive Massive Fibrosis or PMF. PMF is fatal as it hardens the lung and eventually leads to respiratory failure. Unfortunately there is no cure for black lung disease in its advanced form. However if the condition is caught early, one can lead asymptomatic and normal life by adopting few preventive measures. Black lung disease is said to affect workers over age 50 and those who have at least a 10 years of continuous exposure to coal dust.

Symptoms of Black Lung Disease

Simple form of black lung disease may not produce any symptoms. However, as the disease progresses one may develop the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Obstruction of airway
  • Severe cough with mucus

Diagnosis of black lung disease

As a first step towards diagnosis, doctor takes note of the history of the patient, nature of the working environment and other risk factors during the clinical trials. Chest x-rays and pulmonary function test are the standard diagnostic tools used to diagnose black lungs. If the X-rays show up black spots, chest CT may be ordered to confirm the condition.

Treatment of black lung disease

There is no specific treatment available for black lung disease. Symptomatic treatment is offered to the patient to relieve him of the discomfort. Further progress of the disease can be curtailed by avoiding exposure to the dust. As the black lung disease progresses, it forms into progressive massive fibrosis and becomes untreatable.

Prevention of black lung disease

The only way to handle the black lung disease is to prevent it. Most countries have implemented coal dust regulation acts and have laid down safety standards to prevent this debilitating disease. Some of the preventive measures are mentioned below:

1. Masks may be provided to the workers to control the dust inhalation.
2. Adequate ventilation should be provided in the mines.
3. Regular health check up of workers should be conducted periodically to test for respiratory function.
4. Effective Engineering controls must be placed to check the coal dust. Currently technically advanced dust suppression systems are available to control fine airborne coal particles.


Plethysmograph is a diagnostic tool that is used to measure flow or pressure. Body plethysmography test involves sitting inside an airtight box and breathing to a particular volume. Blood pressure cuffs are placed around your arm and leg. The patient undergoing plethysmography test must remove clothing on arm and leg and refrain from smoking at least half hour prior to the test. The consequent expansion and decompression of the chest volume allows physicians to rule out any blockages in the limbs as it measures systolic blood pressure. Any abnormal readings can be indicative of arterial occlusive disease, vascular disease or blood clots or even deep venous thrombosis. This test is also referred to as arterial plethysmography and is a vital pulmonary function test. Plethysmography is often used to determine bronchial reactions to histamine or metacholine. But this test is not as accurate as arteriography.

Tags: #PFT #Black lung disease #Plethysmography
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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: April 12, 2024