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Chest X-Rays for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chest X-Rays for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Your doctor will probably do a chest X-ray if he or she suspects you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) .

A chest X-ray provides a picture of the heart and lungs. Although COPD cannot be diagnosed with a chest X-ray alone, it can help your doctor evaluate shortness of breath, help support a diagnosis of COPD, and detect advanced emphysema .

A chest X-ray is done at the time of initial diagnosis of COPD. Although routine follow-up chest X-rays are not usually done, many doctors advise smokers and recent ex-smokers to have this test every 1 to 2 years.

Abnormal chest X-ray findings are usually not seen until COPD is severe. In this case, the X-ray may show:

  • Flattening of the diaphragm , the large muscle that separates the lungs and heart from the abdominal cavity.
  • Increased size of the chest, as measured from front to back.
  • A long narrow heart.
  • Abnormal air collections within the lung (focal bullae).

A normal chest X-ray does not mean you do not have COPD. It may be most useful for ruling out other conditions that might be causing your breathing problems, such as lung cancer , heart failure , pneumonia , or tuberculosis .

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

Last Revised: November 29, 2011

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