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Breathing With COPD

Tips for pursed lip breathing and pulmonary rehabilitation.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Programs to Consider

While diaphragmatic breathing may not work well, other techniques taught through a pulmonary rehabilitation program may be more effective, Criner says. Some pulmonary rehab programs use breathing devices, called inspiratory muscle trainers, that train patients to increase the pressure that breathing muscles have to generate per breath.

"You can't really train the lungs, but you could train your respiratory muscles to be stronger or to have greater endurance," Criner says. Training the respiratory muscles may make them stronger by about 20% to 25%, he says.

"It's hard to show, though, if you make them stronger, that it relates to an improvement in your ability to do work. But you can make them stronger and that may be helpful in clearing secretions and coughing," as well as giving the breathing muscles greater reserves from which to draw, he says.

It's important to get good advice from a pulmonary rehab program about effective devices, Criner says. Lung trainers and other devices promoted on the Internet often don't work.

"They're like kazoos," he says. "Rather than searching the Web and buying things out of pocket that may not be useful, go to a pulmonary rehab program. They can tell you about the best things and approaches. They'll customize it to you to make you feel better and do more."

Pulmonary rehab programs also teach patients exercises to strengthen their arms and legs, a therapy that Edelman says is valuable to COPD patients. Typically, patients do aerobic and isotonic exercises, the latter designed to strengthen muscles.

"Old-fashioned exercise training -- the evidence for that is pretty good," Edelman says. "You can make the muscles and the circulatory system more efficient so that it delivers oxygen to the exercising muscles better. And of course, that reduces the burden on the lungs because you need to deliver less oxygen to the blood."

COPD Symptoms: When to Call Your Doctor

If you have COPD, you may have an episode in which shortness of breath worsens quickly to the point that it's difficult to catch your breath. Other symptoms may crop up, too, including chest tightness, increased coughing, more mucus, or a fever. Call your doctor immediately to discuss whether you need treatment, perhaps for a lung infection or other problem that has developed.

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, you must get emergency help if you have these symptoms:

  • You're having an unusually hard time walking or talking, such as difficulty in finishing a sentence.
  • Your heart is beating rapidly or irregularly.
  • Your lips or fingernails look gray or blue.
  • Your breathing is fast and hard, even when you are using your medication.
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Reviewed on November 09, 2010
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