Measurement of Ventilatory Function
A great deal can be learned about the mechanical properties of the
lungs from measurements of forced maximal expiration and inspiration. The
spirometer (developed in 1846 by Hutchinson) is used to measure ventilatory
function (dynamic lung volumes and maximal flow rates).
Conventionally, a spirometer is a device used to measure timed
expired and inspired volumes. From these, we can calculate how effectively
and how quickly the lungs can be emptied and filled. The measurements that are
usually made are as follows:
- VC (vital capacity) is the maximum volume of air which
can be exhaled or inspired during either a forced (FVC) or a slow (VC)
- FEV1 (forced expired volume in one second) is the volume
expired in the first second of maximal expiration after a maximal inspiration
and is a useful measure of how quickly full lungs can be emptied
- FEV1/VC is the FEV1 expressed as a percentage of the VC
or FVC (whichever volume is larger) and gives a clinically useful index of
- FEF25-75% is the average expired flow over the middle
half of the FVC manoeuvre and is regarded as a more sensitive measure of small
airways narrowing than FEV1. Unfortunately, FEF25-75% has a wide range of
normality, is less reproducible than FEV1, and is difficult to interpret if the
VC (or FVC) is reduced or increased
- PEF (peak expiratory flow) is the maximal expiratory
flow rate achieved and this occurs very early in the forced expiratory
Miller 1996) shows a normal spirogram showing the
measurements of forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expired volume in one
second (FEV1) and forced expiratory flow over the middle half of the FVC
Static lung volume and capacity
Static Lung volume tests evaluate air movement within the pulmonary tract with no time limitations. McArdle et al. 2000) shows the various static lung volume measurements that can be made.
- TV - Tidal Volume - Volume inspired or expired per breath
- Average values Male 600mL, Female 500mL
- IRV - Inspiratory Reserve Volume - Maximum inspiration at the end of tidal inspiration
- Average values Male 3L, Female 1.9L
- ERV - Expiratory Reserve Volume - Maximum expiration at the end of tidal expiration
- Average values Male 1.2L, Female 800mL
- TLC - Total Lung Capacity - Volume in lungs after maximal inspiration
- Average values Male 6L, Female 4.2L
- RLV - Residual Lung Volume - Volume in the lungs after maximum expiration
- Average values Male 1.2L, Female 1L
- FVC - Forced Vital Capacity - Maximum volume expired after a maximum inspiration
- Average values Male 4.8L, Female 3.2L
- IC - Inspiratory Capacity - Maximum volume inspired following tidal expiration
- Average values Male 3.6L, Female 2.4L
- FRC - Functional Residual Capacity - Volume in the lungs after a tidal expiration
- Average values Male 2.4L, Female 1.8L
The volume of air breathed in and out can be measured using a spirometer. The subject breathes in
and out of a sealed chamber through a mouthpiece.
As the chamber inflates and deflates, a pen recorder traces out
the breathing movements onto a chart. The machine is
calibrated so that breathing volumes can be calculated.
of air breathed in and out in a normal cycle is
called the tidal volume, usually about 500 cm³.
We can breathe in and out to a greater extent, and these
extra supplies of air are called the inspiratory reserve volume,
and the expiratory reserve volume, respectively.
During exercise the tidal volume increases, making use of both
the inspiratory and expiratory reserve volumes. All three volumes
together add up to the vital capacity - the maximum possible
tidal volume - usually about 4 to 5 cm³.
When we breathe out as hard as we can, there is still some air in
the lungs, this is called the residual volume, add this to the vital
capacity, and we have the total lung volume, usually between
5 to 7 cm³.
Some of the air we breathe in does not reach the alveoli, but
remains in the air passages, occupying the so-called dead space.
These volumes and the effects of exercise are shown on Wasserman 1999 spirometer trace.
Predicted Normal Values
To interpret ventilatory function tests in any individual, compare
the results with reference values obtained from a well-defined population of
normal subjects matched for gender, age, height and ethnic origin and using
similar test protocols and calibrated instruments.
Normal predicted values for ventilatory function generally vary as
follows (Wasserman 1999):
- Gender: For a given height and age, males have a larger
FEV1, FVC, FEF25-75% and PEF but a slightly lower FEV1/FVC%
- Age: FEV1, FVC, FEF25-75% and PEF increase and FEV1/FVC%
decrease with age until about 20 years old in females and 25 years in males.
After this, all indices gradually fall, although the precise rate of decline is
probably masked due to the complex interrelationship between age and height.
The fall in FEV1/FVC% with age in adults is due to the greater decline in FEV1
- Height: All indices other than FEV1/FVC% increase with
- Ethnic Origin: Caucasians have the largest FEV1 and FVC
and, of the various ethnic groups, Polynesians are among the lowest. The values
for people of African origin are 10 to 15% lower than for Caucasians of similar age, sex and
height, because, for a given standing height their thorax is shorter. Chinese
have been found to have an FVC about 20% lower and Indians about 10% lower than
matched Caucasians. There is little difference in PEF between ethnic
- MILLER, A. (1996) Pulmonary Function Tests in Clinical and occupational disease. Philadelphia: Grune & Stratton
- WASSERMAN, K. et al. (1999) Principles of exercise testing. Baltimore Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
- McARDLE, W.D. et al. (2000) The Physiology Support System. In: McARDLE, W.D. et al., 2nd ed. Essentials of Exercise Physiology, USA: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, p. 235
The following references provide additional information on this topic:
- QUANJER, P. H. et al. (2012) Multi-ethnic reference values for spirometry for the 3–95-yr age range: the global lung function 2012 equations. European Respiratory Journal, 40 (6), p. 1324-1343.
If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:
- MACKENZIE, B. (2004) Measurement of Ventilatory Function [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/spirometer.htm [Accessed
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: