Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Overview

Highlights

  1. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease that affects your lungs and airways, making it difficult to breath.
  2. Pulmonary rehabilitation is used to treat the effects of COPD, such as muscle weakness, low stamina, depression, and anxiety.
  3. You’re most likely to benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation if your COPD keeps you from being active and you have a forced expiratory volume (FEV) of 50 percent or less.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease. That means it gets worse over time. It affects your lungs and airways, making it difficult to breathe.

As your COPD progresses, you may find that you’re less able to participate in even moderate exercise. You may notice that you’re no longer able to participate in activities you enjoy. You may also have difficulty performing simple tasks of daily living, such as taking a shower, getting dressed, or preparing a meal.

You may want to consider pulmonary rehabilitation if your COPD is getting in your way and preventing you from enjoying life.

What Is Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is an individualized, multidisciplinary program. It doesn’t focus on the damage in your lungs. Instead, it addresses the ways that COPD affects the rest of your body. These effects can include:

  • muscle weakness
  • poor stamina
  • depression
  • anxiety

Pulmonary rehabilitation programs aren’t standardized. They may last from a few weeks to a few months. Some are inpatient programs. That means you stay in the rehabilitation center overnight. Others are outpatient programs. That means you visit the center during the day for treatment and return home at night.

Most programs offer a core set of basic services and interventions. These can include:

Exercise

Exercise is the cornerstone of pulmonary rehabilitation programs. Types include whole body exercises, such as walking, swimming, strength training, and activities to improve your flexibility and balance. You need to get a relatively intense workout to benefit from the exercise program. This can be challenging if you’re not used to exerting yourself or if you become short of breath.

Counseling

Trained counselors and psychotherapists can help you work through emotional issues related to your disease. These may include depression and anxiety.

Education

Learning about COPD is a vital part of pulmonary rehabilitation. You may learn about how COPD progresses. You may also learn about the measures you can take to slow its progression and maintain your quality of life.

Nutrition

Some people with COPD become very thin, a condition known as pulmonary cachexia. Others are no longer able to exercise, which can lead to weight gain. Overeating in response to emotional challenges can also cause weight gain. Nutritional counseling can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Smoking Cessation

If you haven’t stopped smoking already, the pulmonary rehabilitation program will give you the medical and emotional support you need to do so.

Assistive Devices

The staff at the program will assess your need for assistive equipment, which can help you stay independent for longer.

Self-Management

As the program draws to a close, you’ll learn how to introduce exercise, stress reduction, healthy diet, and other lifestyle changes into your normal routine.

Who Benefits from Pulmonary Rehabilitation?

According to guidelines from the American College of Physicians, American College of Chest Physicians, and American Thoracic Society, you’re most likely to benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation if your COPD keeps you from being active and you have a forced expiratory volume (FEV) of 50 percent or less.

FEV is a measure of how much air you can blow out of your lungs in one second. A normal FEV is around 90 to 100 percent. The lower your FEV, the more difficulty you have breathing.

An FEV of 50 percent or below is a sign of late-stage COPD.

There haven’t been enough studies to prove the usefulness of pulmonary rehabilitation for people with an FEV higher than 50 percent. However, pulmonary rehabilitation may help them, and it won’t do them any harm. You and your doctor should consider pulmonary rehabilitation if you’re unable to exercise moderately or your illness keeps you from being mobile, even if your FEV is higher than 50 percent.

Scholars aren’t worried that too many people will be referred for pulmonary rehabilitation. They’re concerned that too few people with COPD and doctors are aware of its potential benefits.

Benefits of Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation has been associated with:

  • an increased tolerance for movement and activity
  • a better quality of life
  • less shortness of breath
  • fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations

Speak to your doctor if you’re interested in trying pulmonary rehabilitation.