Pulmonary Rehabilitation For COPD And Chronic Lung Conditions

By:    Published: December 19, 2011

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Coping with a chronic lung condition, such as emphysema, can be very difficult. Depending on the severity of the condition, symptoms can impact activities of daily living and greatly decrease quality of life. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs are intended to teach symptom management skills and help improve exercise tolerance, which improves daily functioning. Programs are often offered through hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Usually referrals to a pulmonary rehab program can be made by a treating physician.

What Is It?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a series of classes held on an outpatient basis, which help people with chronic lung conditions. Class formats may vary, but pulmonary rehabilitation usually includes two components including educational and exercise classes.

  • The educational component will include information on how to cope with symptoms, such as shortness of breath during daily activities. It may also include information about medication available and how it can help.
  • The second component of a pulmonary rehabilitation program will include exercise classes. Patients will be instructed on what types of exercise to do and monitored closely while they workout. Goals may be set to improve exercise tolerance as patients progress.

Who Is It For?

Patients with a lung condition that causes a decrease in lung function and symptoms that interfere with activities of daily living may benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation. These conditions include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Pulmonary Hypertension
  • Interstitial Lung Disease

Pulmonary rehab may also be recommended for patients after a lung transplant. In some instances, if a patient has additional medical conditions it may prevent participation in pulmonary rehabilitation. This determination would be up to a treating physician.

How Does It Help?

There are a few goals with pulmonary rehabilitation. One goal is to teach patients about their conditions. With proper education, patients can develop ways to live with their lung problem and decrease symptoms. Information on proper nutrition is often discussed. Recommendations on ways to decrease respiratory infections and stay healthy will also likely be taught.

The second goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is to increase lung function while building up exercise tolerance. Cardiovascular exercise, such as walking on a treadmill may be encouraged. Stretching exercises and light strength training may also be incorporated. Building up exercise tolerance can help decrease shortness of breath during daily living activities, such as showering, housework and walking.

An additional benefit of pulmonary rehabilitation is the support patients can get from one another. Classes are usually held in a group setting. Patients with similar lung conditions can share tips and strategies for coping. This not only provides practical suggestions, but it provides emotional support.

What To Expect

At the first class, an initial assessment to determine a patient’s lung function will be completed. The first part of the class may involve classroom time. Instructors will discuss ways to decrease symptoms and improve quality of life. For instance, pursed lip breathing is one technique taught to people with emphysema. The technique involves exhaling slowly through pursed lips to decrease shortness of breath.

After instruction, participants will start an exercise session by going through directed stretching exercises. Classes may start out very basic and participants may even be seated for exercises. Depending on the equipment available, patients may be directed to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike for varied amounts of time. During exercise participants will likely be monitored either continually or through spot checks. Heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen level and possible blood pressure will be checked. After exercise, patients will be instructed on how to cool down and will also be monitored for any adverse affects.

What To Look For In A Program

A pulmonary rehabilitation program should have classes taught by a qualified instructor. Usually a respiratory therapist or a registered nurse with experience in pulmonary medicine will teach classes. People interested in pulmonary rehabilitation should also look for a program which combines education and exercise classes.

Another factor to consider is whether the rehabilitation program has a maintenance component as part of the program. Some pulmonary rehabilitation programs will have an initial series of classes and then also offer a maintenance program. The maintenance component will usually involve monitored exercise sessions, but not be as highly structured as the initial classes. Participants get the support of staff and fellow members but are more independent in their program.

Look for a program which is covered at least in part by health insurance. Health benefits vary widely, so participants should contact the pulmonary rehabilitation program and their insurance company to determine what is covered.

A pulmonary rehabilitation program is one way patients can take an active role in improving their health. Participating in pulmonary rehabilitation can provide patients with several benefits. In addition to the physical improvements, participants may develop increased self-esteem, enjoy the camaraderie of other participants and improve their quality of life.

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