Living Through
The Pulmonary Function Test Results
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With All Due Respect To Our Medical Authorities
Some Explanations Everyone Can Understand
                                          By Nancy Majava

Before  I start, let me give you a couple of personal observations.  Number one, these are diagnostic tests for use by Doctors who, hopefully, combine them with other information they have to diagnose the severity of the lung disfunction.  Alone, they tell you a great deal but they are ONLY numbers.  For instance, they compare you to a "Normal"person.  Think about the current rage about "dysfunctional families" - find me a functional one - everyone is dysfunctional in some area and nobody is "normal." Secondly, and most importantly, these tests do not allow for that illusive quality known as Heart - Soul - Attitude or Spirit.  The one that says, I may be down but I am not out - the one that says "I'll lie me down and bleed a bit and rise to fight again." Lastly, most of us have had this disease before it was diagnosed.  We have compensated in various ways and continue to do so.  As an example, there are people on the list who walk a treadmill at a good distance and good speed, who can't walk around a store and there are people like me who could shop all day, but struggle with the treadmill.  Guess I have just more practice shopping! cheer up - whatever your numbers are - you are here reading them and as long as you are here, you can have a good life.  Let the doctors do their thing - yours is to keep improving your life!

DEFINITIONS:  (Some resembling "daffynitions")

Normal:  80% or greater than predicted - does that make sense?  See above

Predicted Values:  Numbers based on "normal" person of equivalent age, height, weight, and in some cases, (depending on computer) race.

Measured Value:  What is your % of the Predicted:  For all math challenged - you divide one into the other - for instance your Significant Other  weighs 100 pounds  and you weigh 50, you are 50% of his weight (or hers).  What good does to know this is more than I understand, but somebody designed the program!!

Forced Vital Capacity:  The amount of air you blow out.

Forced Expiratory Volume 1:  The amount of air you blow out in one second from the beginning of the test.

FEV1/FVC:  The ratio of FEV1 to FVC.  Again, for the math. challenged like me divide one into the other and -  do you care?

FEF 25 - 75%:  Forced Expiratory Flow from 25 to 75% is what you are blowing in the middle of the test.  (Don't they have anything better to do with their time than this???)

SVC:  Slow Vital Capacity:  Is the volume of gas measured....after or before an inspiration.  This is a direct quote and I would like someone to explain to me how I can exhale before I inhale!!  See why I say, don't pay much attention.

FRC or TGV:  Measures volume of gas remaining in lungs after exhale - also called RV - or residual volume.

TLC:  I like this much better in its familiar form and we all need heaps of it, but in testing format it means Total Lung Capacity - which means how much you can breathe in.  (the important part of this is you should always practice breathing that's what is vital)

Arterial Blood Gases - drawn from artery (the one that hurts unless you have big ones).  Shows the following:

PH:     I have this in my pool also - shows the balance of acid and alkaline - nobody tells you what or why, so it can't be too important

PaCO2:  Tells you if you are a CO2 retainer.  If this number is over 50 then it will indicate a degree to which you are a CO2 retainer.  This is sort of important because if you are on oxygen it tells them how much to give you, etc.  You either do or do not retain CO2 and you can't change it but you can adjust your routines to help get rid of it.

PaO2:  How much oxygen.  There are some figures like 55 -60 mm Hg, but all again and the doctor makes the decision about oxygen, in combination with facts.  You can increase these numbers thru exercise, etc. so that's the good news. You don't increase your oxygen without specific instructions.  More is not always better.

PULSE OXIMETRY:  That's the "dohicky" they stick on your finger.  Can also make you crazy if you believe everything it says.  Fingernail polish effects it - the equipment itself must be cleaned between patients and on and on - so again, don't panic - they're only numbers.
I've given you some definitions and some comments on them.  For those of you who really want more information, there are several web sites which will provide same to you.  However, I cannot stress enough that, particularly for the newly diagnosed, this is a very frightening, and you must not buy into numbers or self-fulfilling prophecies. because you are way below "normal" does not mean you are leaving us soon.  We are all going down the same road and what is important is not some number on a test but how you are feeling, both mentally and physically and what you are able to do to make yourself feel better.  Let your Doctor worry about the numbers - you worry about getting better and keeping yourself as well as possible.  Remember tests in school - they didn't always indicate what you knew. Nerves, tension, etc. play a part and they also play a part in a test in a doctor’s office and maybe the computer was having a bad day!!

Nancy Majava
(AKA: Nancy From Florida)
July 1999

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