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Breath Training for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

If you have severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may find you take quick, small, shallow breaths. This pattern may be less effective for moving air in and out of the lungs. Breath training can help you reduce breathlessness.

Three basic breath training methods are diaphragmatic breathing, pursed-lip breathing, and breathing while bending forward. They can be used to help you get over times when you feel more short of breath, but they must be practiced regularly for you to do them well.

  • Diaphragmatic breathing helps your lungs expand so that they take in more air. Lie on your back or prop yourself up on several pillows. With one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest, breathe in, pushing the abdomen outward as far as possible. You should be able to feel the hand on your abdomen moving out, while the hand on your chest should not move. When you breathe out, you should be able to feel the hand on your abdomen moving in. After you can do diaphragmatic breathing well lying down, you can learn to do it sitting or standing. Many, but not all, people with COPD find this breathing method helpful. Diaphragmatic breathing should be practiced for 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day.
  • Pursed-lip breathing may help you breathe more air out so that your next breath can be deeper. In this type of breathing, you breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth while almost closing your lips. Breathe in for about 4 seconds and breathe out for 6 to 8 seconds. Pursed-lip breathing decreases shortness of breath and improves your ability to exercise.
  • Breathing while bending forward at the waist may make it easier for you to breathe. Bending forward while breathing may decrease shortness of breath in those with severe COPD, both at rest and during exercise. This may be because bending forward allows the diaphragm to move more easily.

Breathing training can be done as an individual therapy or as part of a pulmonary rehabilitation program.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerKen Y. Yoneda, MD - Pulmonology
Last RevisedNovember 29, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 29, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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