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Use of pulmonary function testing in the diagnosis of asthma

Charles G Irvin, PhD
Section Editor
Peter J Barnes, DM, DSc, FRCP, FRS
Deputy Editor
Helen Hollingsworth, MD


The pathophysiology of asthma is characterized by a pattern of lung dysfunction that includes [1,2]:

Airflow limitation that reverses with bronchodilator administration.

Variable airflow limitation, which can be either circadian or episodic in nature.

Airways hyperresponsiveness, which is an excessive decrease in airflow in response to specific stimuli or "triggers" (see "Risk factors for asthma").

Unlike other pulmonary diseases, asthma cannot be identified by a definitive pathologic picture or one diagnostic test. Rather, the diagnosis of asthma is based upon an appropriate clinical history and characteristic findings from a series of pulmonary function tests [1-4]. These tests most often include different measures of airflow, bronchodilator responses, lung volumes, and the diffusing capacity.


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Literature review current through: Apr 2016. | This topic last updated: Jan 16, 2014.
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