How to Test Respiratory System Efficiency

Written by andrew latham
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How to Test Respiratory System Efficiency
The VO2 test measures the volume of oxygen inhaled while exercising. (running image by Byron Moore from

You can use respiratory system efficiency tests to assess the fitness level of an athlete, the risk of postoperative respiratory complications for people undergoing surgery or to diagnose respiratory illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. These tests measure the air volume your lungs can move, how fast they can compress and expand and how stiff your lungs and chest wall are. You must take into consideration the age, gender, height and size of patients before assessing the results of a respiratory efficiency test. For instance, a small man may score lower on a respiratory system efficiency test than a larger man, while an obese person will also have a lower score than a slimmer patient with the same age, gender and height.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Spirometer
  • Stopwatch

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  1. 1

    Test the Forced Vital Capacity, or FVC, of the subject. This is the maximum amount of air he or she can expel from her lungs after a deep breath. Use a spirometer to measure the volume inspired and expired by the patient. Lower than average results may indicate the patient has asthma or bronchitis.

  2. 2

    Quantify the forced expiratory volume in one second, or FEVE1. This test measures the volume of air exhaled in the first second of he FVC test described in step 1. Healthy patients should be able to exhale 75 to 80 per cent of their total vital capacity in the first second.

  3. 3

    Measure the maximum amount of oxygen the patient can breath in one minute while exercising at maximum capacity. This test will measure the ability of the pulmonary system to transport oxygen to muscle tissue. People with a high level of fitness will breath higher volumes of oxygen than those with a low fitness level.

Tips and warnings

  • The altitude at which you carry out these tests can affect your results. For instance VO2 max results decrease by up to 11 per cent for every 1,000 meters you rise over 1,600 meters.

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