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Medical Definitions

Medical Definitions

It can be very confusing when your child is undergoing a lot of different tests and treatments especially when you are not really sure what they involve. Below are a few explanations that may help.

If unsure please talk to your Doctor or Consultant and ask them to explain further.

Blood Tests

Blood is drawn from a suitable vein usually in the elbow crease or the back of the hand to test for many different things that may indicate lung disease.

Arterial Blood Gases

Blood is drawn from an artery usually in the back of the wrist to check the blood oxygen levels, blood PH, the carbon dioxide levels. This tells the doctor how well the patients lungs are able to oxygenate the blood and may indicate the use for supplemental oxygen therapy. Dont forget to ask for magic cream/or spray before any blood tests to numb the skin, it does not have to hurt.

Oxygen Saturation Tests

This test measures the amount of oxygen being carried by the red blood cells. A probe is attached usually to a finger which shines a light through the finger. This is quite painless but can be annoying if left on for a long time, especaiily as it 'beeps' if the saturation levels keep dropping!!!!

Chest X-ray

An x-ray (radiograph) is a painless medical test that helps doctors diagnose and treat medical conditions.

Radiography involves exposing a part of the body to a small dose of radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the body. X-rays are the oldest and most frequently used form of medical imaging.

CT Scan

CT imagining uses special x-ray equipment to produce multiple images or pictures of the inside of the body and a computer joins them together in a cross-sectional view. The images can then be examined on a computer or printed.


This is a medical procedure where a flexible tube is inserted into the airways, usually through the mouth or nose. This allows the doctor to examine inside the patients airway for abnormalities such as foreign bodies, bleeding, tumors or inflammation.

Bronchoalveolar Lavage

This is a medical procedure in which a bronchoscope is passed through the mouth or nose into the lungs and fluid is squirted into a small part of the lung and then recollected for examination.

Lung Biopsy

A lung biopsy removes a small piece of lung tissue which can be looked at under a microscope.


Types of treatment


Immune suppressants and corticosteriods

These drugs are used to suppress the immune system in some lung diseases that are caused by an over active immune system. They are often used to treat inflammation. Some patients can achieve fairly good control of their conditions with these medications. You should discuss side effects of long term use with your doctor.


Liquid drugs such as Salbutamol and Atrovent are turned into a fine mist that can inhaled directly into the lungs. The majority of drugs delivered by inhaler are to ease bronchospasm or 'tightness' of the chest.


These are devices designed to deliver drugs directly to the lungs, so that they go where the disease is and minimise effects to other parts of the body. Many different drugs can be given via inhaler, but the most common ones are corticosteriods, which are used to damp down airway inflammation and bronchodilators of various types which are used to try and open up airways.

Intravenous and Long Term Antibiotics

Typically used during chest infections but some antibiotics such as Azithromycin have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and are used long term.


Pain can be a feature of lung disease for many reasons, such as pain from pleurisy (inflammation of the lining of the lung), from rib fractures due to coughing, from overworked respiratory muscles or as the side effect of medicaions. The exact painkiller used will depend on the patient and cause of pain and there are several classes of painkiller, all may not be suitable for people with lung disease.

Oxygen therapy

At all times, the body is taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. If this does not happen adequately, the oxygen in the blood will decrease, and the person may need extra oxygen. Oxygen therapy benefits the patient by increasing the supply of oxygen to the lungs and thereby increasing the availability of oxygen to the body tissues. The air we breathe contains 21% oxygen - a gas vital to every cell in our body. People with lung problems may have to work much harder to obtain all the oxygen they need. The extra effort involved can cause breathlessness and tiredness, particularly after walking or coughing. Doctors have found that, for some people, breathing air with a higher concentration of oxygen can reduce these symptoms. This treatment is not helpful for everyone with lung problems and your respiratory specialist will assess whether extra oxygen is appropriate. This is done by some simple tests to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood.

Types of oxygen treatment

Oxygen can be obtained from compressed oxygen cylinders, liquid oxygen in cylinders or from an oxygen concentrator machine, which extracts oxygen from the air. If you use oxygen for short periods to relieve attacks of breathlessness you will probably be prescribed oxygen cylinders. For people who would benefit from oxygen for a significant number of hours a day, often taken whilst asleep, oxygen concentrator machines are more convenient and cost effective. You can buy small portable oxygen cylinders (though they are quite expensive). Some are handbag size and are useful for occasional or emergency use whilst out and about. They can be found in sports outlets and some chemists.

You can find out more information about oxygen therapy on the British Lung Foundation site.

Non-invasive positive pressure ventilation (NIV)

In the late stages of lung disease and during type II respiratory failure carbon dioxide retention can become a problem. Carbon dioxide is dissolved back into the blood stream this in turn causes an imbalance in the blood PH level making the blood acidy. Very high levels of carbon dioxide can lead to tachycardia, seizures, coma, respiratory arrest and eventually death. NIV is used to help correct the imbalance of this gas within the lungs. NIV is usually delivered by a tightly sealed mask. There are various different settings and levels of support that can be given by most NIV machines depending on the specific lung disease and blood gas abnormalities.

Chest physio and Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Chest physiotherapy is generally peformed by respiratory therapists, breathing is improved by the indirect removal of mucus from the airways of the patient.

Techniques include clapping or percussion, the therapist lightly claps or pats the patients vhest, back and area under the arms. Percussion whilst effectiv ein infants is no longer widely used for older children and adults due to the introduction of more effecive self- management techinques.

Getting out of breath can be very frightening which in turn makes breathlessness worse. To try to avoid this people often reduce teh amount of physical activity they do. However this does not help as over time it makes you unfit, tired and more beathless. Pulmonary rehabilitation helps to break this cycle by encouraging gentle physical exercise and providing advice on lung health and coping with lung disease.


In end stage lung disease a lung or heart/lung transplant maybe considered. When transplants are sucessful the patient may return to an almost normal lifestyle but there are potential problems, such as infection, recurrence the original disease or rejection.

To find out more about transplant go the site below and please sign the organ donor registar.