Whether used to identify lung disease or monitor the effectiveness of asthma treatments, spirometry is a commonly-performed breathing test to measure the lungs’ capacity to move air in or out of the them.
While such testing always has been offered at the Fort Frances Community Clinic, the Fort Frances Family Health Team recently took it over as part of its chronic disease management program—and wants the public to know they’re here to help.
Chronic disease management co-ordinator Patti-Jo LeDrew said in interview last week that she recently became certified in asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and spirometry, and that she’s been busy conducting spirometry tests every Wednesday since November.
LeDrew said spirometry testing used to be done in the lab at the clinic.
“The lab got to the point where they were looking at new equipment,” she explained. “Then, the chronic disease program came in with the Family Health Team.
“It was going to be one of our programs.
“So, we finally got funding for the new spirometer machine to meet current standards, and I got my training in Spirotrac [spirometry software] and respiratory education,” LeDrew added.
LeDrew currently is seeing patients for spirometry tests one day a week, but this will be expanded to more days once her RPN staff is trained to do it, as well.
“We want to ensure everybody has the proper training before they start conducting the tests,” she stressed.
“And in addition, we offer so many other programs here that we have to spread ourselves out as much as we can.”
Test are done by appointment only, either by physicians’ or a nurse practitioner referral, or self-referral if patients have a particular health concern.
LeDrew credited asthma educator Sharon Strachan at the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre in helping get the FHT’s program going.
“Sharon was integral in helping me with my training in the program and helping me to set up the program,” she noted.
“So actually, when I wasn’t running [it], we did use to refer a lot of our patients to her.”
What is spirometry?
During a spirometry test, a patient blows into a spirometer, which assesses the breathing capacity of the lungs.
The spirometer is connected to a computer, which gives feedback regarding the breath test.
LeDrew said spirometry can be used as a diagnostic tool and a monitoring device, as well as to evaluate a disability.
As a diagnostic tool, it is used to:
•evaluate patients with symptoms of lung disease, such as shortness of breath, cough, phlegm production, wheezing, and frequent chest infections;
•evaluate those at risk of lung disease, such smokers over the age of 40 with one or more of the preceding symptoms and/or a family history of the disease;
•assess pre-operative risk; and
•assess a person’s health status before beginning strenuous physical activity or high-risk employment.
As a monitoring device, spirometry can be used to follow a patient’s condition, as well as to assess prognosis, the effectiveness of treatments, and adverse reactions to medications, and when they have been exposed to
harmful environmental or occupational agents, said LeDrew.
“So if they’ve already been diagnosed with asthma or COPD, we’ll do a test without the bronchodilator [puffer medication] to see what they were like before the test without the medication, and then their breathing capabilities after to see if it’s working for them,” she explained.
When used to evaluate a disability, spirometry is a tool to assess patients who are part of a rehabilitation program, and for assessments for insurance and legal purposes.
LeDrew said beyond the actual testing, there’s an education component when a patient comes in to see her.
“When I am conducting a spirometry test, usually I take a half-an-hour to an hour with each patient because we talk about what their condition is, when they’re experiencing their shortness of breath,” she noted.
There also are certain parameters for testing that have to be met, such as knowing what the temperature of the room is, what the barometric pressure is, and the proper height and weight of the patient, added LeDrew.
Patients also are given information prior to coming for a testing, so they know which medications they may need to refrain from so as to not affect test results.
Asthma is defined as a chronic lung condition characterized by one or more of the following problems: cough and sputum production, wheeze, shortness of breath, or chest tightness.
These symptoms are all variable.
Patients with asthma have extra-sensitive airways that react to irritants by narrowing or obstructing. In effect, the airways are hyper-responsive.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD) is a long-term disease usually caused by smoking. It includes both chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and is a progressive, partially-reversible airway obstruction.
Diagnosis and the evaluation of severity are based on post-bronchodilator results.
In related news, LeDrew noted the Family Health Team’s chronic disease management program also offers help with smoking cessation.