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History and Physical Exam for COPD

Table of Contents

History and Physical Exam for COPD

Exam Overview

Your medical history provides important clues that can help your doctor diagnose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In taking your medical history, your doctor will ask questions about:

During the physical exam, your doctor will examine your body for other clues that may explain the cause of your symptoms. A physical exam involves:

A physical exam is not painful, but parts of it (such as abdominal palpation) may feel slightly uncomfortable.

Why It Is Done

A history and physical exam help your doctor make a diagnosis. They are a routine and important part of any visit to a doctor.


Your history may reveal risk factors that suggest you have COPD or an increased risk for developing COPD, such as:

Your physical exam may also suggest COPD. Findings indicating COPD include:

Certain physical exam findings will help your doctor assess the severity of your condition. These include:

Any one or more of these findings may suggest severe impairment.

A careful history and examination of your heart should also be done to exclude heart disease that can either be associated with or cause symptoms similar to those of COPD. This is especially important, because smoking increases the risk for heart disease as well as for COPD. The heart exam may reveal a rapid heart rate or show signs of heart failure.

The liver may be increased in size, which sometimes can occur because of right-sided heart failure (cor pulmonale).

The result of the physical exam varies. Not every person will have all the possible symptoms or signs of COPD.

Credits for History and Physical Exam for COPD

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Ken Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Last Revised November 29, 2011

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