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Selecting reference values for pulmonary function tests

Meredith C McCormack, MD, MHS
Section Editor
James K Stoller, MD, MS
Deputy Editor
Helen Hollingsworth, MD


Correct interpretation of pulmonary function tests (PFTs) requires the use of appropriate reference values to which the patient's results are compared [1-4].

Unlike many physiologic parameters, for which normal values do not vary with the characteristics of the particular patient, predicted values of pulmonary function depend upon age, height, sex, and race/ethnicity. Therefore, interpretation of PFTs performed for the first time must take these and other factors into consideration. In practice, spirometers and pulmonary function test equipment have software that uses reference equations for calculation of "predicted values," as determined by published studies of large numbers of healthy individuals [3,4].

The American Thoracic Society (ATS) statement on the standardization of spirometry, as well as other ATS guidelines, can be accessed through the ATS web site at www.thoracic.org/statements.

The effects of age, height, sex, and race/ethnicity on the development of normal prediction parameters for interpretation of PFTs are reviewed here. The technique and interpretation of PFTs are discussed separately. (See "Office spirometry" and "Overview of pulmonary function testing in adults" and "Overview of pulmonary function testing in children" and "Diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide".)


PFT results are dependent upon age, growth, and sex.

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Literature review current through: Oct 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 14, 2016.
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