MSD Manual

Please confirm that you are not located inside the Russian Federation

honeypot link

Medical History and Physical Examination for Lung Disorders

By

Rebecca Dezube

, MD, MHS, Johns Hopkins University

Last full review/revision May 2021| Content last modified May 2021
Click here for the Professional Version

Medical History

Next, the doctor asks the person about

  • Past lung disorders and infections

  • Other current and previous medical problems and treatments

  • Previous exposure to chemicals, dusts, molds, or animals

  • Use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco

  • Home and work environments

  • Travels

  • Recreational activities

A doctor asks whether family members have had lung or airway disorders or any other disorders that may affect the lungs or airways (such as clotting and generalized inflammatory disorders). The doctor also asks about other common symptoms and other medical disorders, even those that do not seem related to the respiratory system.

Physical Examination

During the physical examination, a doctor notes the person's weight and overall appearance. The person's general mood and feeling of well-being, which also may be affected by a lung or airway disorder, are noted. A doctor may ask a person to walk around or climb a flight of stairs to see if either activity causes shortness of breath Shortness of Breath Shortness of breath—what doctors call dyspnea—is the unpleasant sensation of having difficulty breathing. People experience and describe shortness of breath differently depending on the cause... read more Shortness of Breath . These activities may be done while measuring pulse oximetry, which is a way to quantify the amount of oxygen in the blood. Use of pulse oximetry can allow the doctor to determine if the level of oxygen in the blood is low or if it decreases during exertion.

A doctor observes the chest to determine if the breathing rate and movements are normal. Using a stethoscope, a doctor listens to the breath sounds to determine whether airflow is normal or obstructed, whether the lungs contain fluid, or whether there are any abnormal lung sounds. By tapping (percussing) the chest and/or by feeling how vibrations resulting from speaking are transmitted to the chest wall, a doctor can often determine if the lungs are filled with air or collapsed and if the space around the lungs contains fluid.

In addition to examination of the chest, a complete physical examination may be needed, because disorders of the lungs may affect other parts of the body. Additionally, some symptoms that seem to suggest a lung disorder may be due to a problem elsewhere in the body. For example, shortness of breath Shortness of Breath Shortness of breath—what doctors call dyspnea—is the unpleasant sensation of having difficulty breathing. People experience and describe shortness of breath differently depending on the cause... read more Shortness of Breath might reflect an abnormality of the kidneys or heart.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
Others also read
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Test your knowledge

Overview of Environmental Lung Diseases
Environmental lung diseases are caused by harmful particles, mists, vapors, or gases that are inhaled, usually while people work. Which of the following factors determines where in the airways or lungs a harmful inhaled particle ends up? 
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Also of Interest

Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
TOP