Interpreting pulmonary function tests: Recognize the pattern, and the diagnosis will follow

We present an overview, an algorithm, and three cases to explain how to use these tests to identify the pattern of respiratory dysfunction.

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When interpreting pulmonary function tests, one should first try to determine the pattern of abnormality: is it obstructive, restrictive, or normal? Pulmonary function tests cannot by themselves distinguish among the potential causes of abnormalities, and must be interpreted in light of the patient's history, physical examination, and ancillary studies. Once a pattern is recognized, the diagnosis will often follow.



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