Pulmonary fibrosis (PF), or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) when physicians are unable to identify the cause of the disease, affects the respiratory system by the thickening and stiffening of lung tissue, leaving scar tissue in the process. There is no single test to diagnose PF, and a battery of diagnostic tests is often required to reach an accurate diagnosis.
These diagnostic tests include chest X-rays, high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) scans, pulse oximetry tests, arterial blood gas tests, and electrocardiograms (ECG).
An ECG is a simple, painless procedure that detects your heart’s electrical activity. An ECG can show how fast your heart is beating, whether the rhythm is steady or irregular, and the strength and regularity of the electrical impulses.
An ECG may be recorded in a doctor’s office, an outpatient facility, in the hospital or as part of stress testing. There are three main types of ECG:
- Resting ECG: If the main interest is to measure how your heart is working while resting, you will be asked to lie down and relax while the heartbeat is being recorded.
- Exercise ECG: If the doctor’s main interest is to measure how your heart reacts to activity, you will be asked to walk or run on a treadmill or cycle on an exercise bike while your heartbeat is recorded.
- 24-hour ECG: If the main interest is to monitor your heartbeat throughout the day, you will be asked to wear a small electrocardiograph device for a day and then return to your doctor’s office so they can read the results.
To diagnose PF and IPF, patients are usually asked to have the exercise ECG, where patients are asked to walk or pedal for a few minutes to reveal how the lungs move oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the bloodstream.
This type is preferred to check your heart rate, your blood pressure, and, together with a pulse oximeter, the amount of oxygen in your blood. During the test, your doctor might place a catheter (a small flexible tube) in an artery in one of your arms to draw blood samples. These will provide a more precise measure of how oxygen and carbon dioxide levels vary in your bloodstream.
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