Pulmonary Function Tests Blow

Because so much rides on them, the pulmonary function tests (PFT) -- that are a part of every cystic fibrosis care center visit -- fill me with anxiety.

| 4 min read
Somer Love
Can we talk about PFT anxiety?!

A doctor may not diagnose you with it, but -- like other kinds of anxiety -- I really believe it is a real thing, and I have had this anxiety for as long as I can remember. “What did you blow?” “What were your numbers?” “What are you breathing at?” So much pressure...

I swear there is more of an art than there is science to these pulmonary function tests. In fact, I believe the results might even come down to what color shirt I had on that particular day. Ha ha.

Ok, not really. But, for reals, there is so much that rides on this grueling test. Growing up, I never was a good test taker, and I am reminded of that every time I do a PFT. Perhaps my whole test-taking stress and anxiety stems from the pressure of a PFT. Ha ha. I really wouldn't doubt it.

As I sit down, or stand up -- whatever way I prefer -- the respiratory therapist (RT) is calibrating the machine and entering my height and weight, because all of that data can change my numbers -- either which way -- in just the slightest bit.

The machine is finally calibrated. The RT hands me my nose clips, but before I take them I have to wipe my sweaty palms off.

OK, nose is plugged. It's go time. I take a couple of normal breaths. “BIG breath in, and BLAST it! BLOW, BLOW, BLOW, BLOW, BLOW, BLOW, BLOW, BLOW!” I see the words "GOOD EFFORT" pop up on the screen and I hear, “Deep breath in! You're done!”

Now, it's the moment I have been dreading. Will there be a two-week hospital stay in my future? Do I really feel good? What will the numbers be? Will I still be at baseline?

The numbers pop up. Ugh; down from my last appointment. But, it was just my first blow. I still have two more tries, at least. I can still bring the numbers up. I shrug it off and nervously laugh at the RT and say, "Well, that was just my practice blow." ˙And then I repeat the process, again.

Seeing the numbers and facing the reality of what percentage of lung power I have left can be somewhat discouraging, especially since I prepare every minute of every day for these tests. I really try so hard not to focus on the numbers, but so much rides on the results that it makes it difficult not to, especially since my baseline is below 30 percent. At this point, every percentage counts.


Clinic days can be exhausting if my PFTs aren't up to par. There are talks of adding new meds, being admitted, or changing things up when I know I am already doing everything I possibly can. I can go from feeling happy to sad, stressed, anxious, frustrated, disappointed, and even angry -- you name it -- basically every emotion is felt on clinic days if I don't "pass the test."

It's important for me to celebrate the wins. When PFT numbers are good -- or even when they are stable -- it seems to make the whole clinic process so much easier and go a lot smoother. We all know how great it feels to be able to walk out of clinic feeling like you're on cloud nine.

It's also very important for me to keep a positive mindset. I believe this is just as important as my daily medical regimen. The mind can be a very powerful tool. I am continually amazed at all that my body endures and how hard it fights.

So, I may not pass a grueling PFT test here or there, or even conquer my lifetime PFT anxiety. However, I will continue to keep kicking CF's butt, while trying to stay positive. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but it will absolutely be worth it.

Breathe out Love! Xo❤️

Somer Love

This site contains general information about cystic fibrosis, as well as personal insight from the CF community. Opinions and experiences shared by members of our community, including but not limited to people with CF and their families, belong solely to the blog post author and do not represent those of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, unless explicitly stated. In addition, the site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

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Somer was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 11 months in 1980. She tries to live each day to the fullest by keeping her hopes high and dreams big. Somer is an active advocate in the CF community who has spent her life fighting the disease alongside her parents. Follow Somer on Love To Breathe.

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