Pulmonary Defined

The word pulmonary means "pertaining to the lungs." It is derived from the Latin root word pulmo, which means lung. If someone has pulmonary disease, this means they have a lung disease, and that may affect their ability to breathe well.

closeup of a doctor observing a chest radiograph on a tablet
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Pulmonary Treatment

Pulmonary disease is often treated by a pulmonologist, a specialist in the treatment of lung and breathing issues ranging from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to lung cancer. Pulmonologists do not perform lung surgeries, but they may perform lung procedures, such as a bronchoscopy, a procedure that allows a medical professional to visualize the inside of the lungs.

If surgery is needed, pulmonary problems are typically addressed by a cardiothoracic surgeon. Other conditions that are acute, such as a pulmonary embolism, may be treated by hospitalists, intensivists, or other physicians.

Pulmonary Disorders

These are some of the major conditions affecting the lungs and breathing:

  • Asthma
  • Acute and chronic bronchitis
  • Bronchiectasis due to cystic fibrosis
  • Chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD): This includes chronic obstructive bronchitis and emphysema. It is often due to cigarette smoke and some occupational exposures. The symptoms are a cough and shortness of breath developing over several years.
  • Lung cancer: While smoking is a leading cause, exposure to asbestos or radon can also increase the risk, and cancer from other parts of the body can metastasize to the lungs.
  • Pneumonia: Infection and inflammation of the lungs can develop from an upper respiratory tract infection or influenza. It can be caused by a virus or a bacteria.
  • Pulmonary embolism: This is a blood clot in the lungs and is a medical emergency.
  • Pulmonary hypertension: This is high blood pressure affecting the arteries in your lungs, which makes the right side of your heart work harder, eventually causing it to fail.
  • Sarcoidosis: This is a rare disease where tiny lumps of cells (granulomas) form in the lungs as well as other organs, affecting how they work.
  • Sleep apnea: This is a group of disorders that affect the ability to breathe while sleeping.

Pulmonary Function Tests

To determine if an individual is experiencing problems with their lungs, pulmonary function tests (PFT) are performed. This is a group of tests that require you to blow into a small device called a spirometer and also may use a pulse oximeter attached to a finger. These tests measure airflow, the volume of your lungs, how well your lungs exchange gas, how you respond to bronchodilators, and how your respiratory muscles function.

These tests can usually be performed in a clinic setting. For some tests, you will have your normal breathing measured. For others, you may be required to exhale forcefully, or to attempt to empty your lungs of air. You may be given an inhaled medication after these tests, then perform the tests again to determine if the medication was effective.

If you already take breathing medications, you may be asked to skip your dose prior to having these tests to determine your baseline lung function.

Exercise testing is also done to test your lung function. This can include a six-minute walk test or cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET) done on a treadmill or exercise bike to get data on oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide production, and heart rate.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Physicians. Pulmonary disease.

  2. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. What is a cardiothoracic surgeon?

  3. American Lung Association. Lung diseases.

  4. John Hopkins Medicine. Pulmonary function tests.

  5. Guazzi M, Bandera F, Ozemek C, Systrom D, Arena R. Cardiopulmonary exercise testing: what is its value?. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017;70(13):1618-1636. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2017.08.012

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