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Pulmonary Rehabilitation for COPD

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Psychological Support in Pulmonary Rehab

People with severe COPD are at risk for emotional disturbances, like depression and anxiety. Mood problems can interfere with normal life and relationships by making people less interested in pleasurable activities, including sex.

Some pulmonary rehab centers offer relaxation training and other mood-modifying treatments, such as counseling. For many people, the regular exercise from pulmonary rehab alone is effective at reducing the negative mood symptoms of COPD.

Benefits of Pulmonary Rehab for COPD

Most people who complete a pulmonary rehab course feel better at the end. They are able to perform more activity without becoming short of breath, and they report their overall quality of life is better.

In a large analysis of multiple pulmonary rehab programs, nearly all participants in pulmonary rehab had improved COPD symptoms. They consistently reported feeling:

  • Less shortness of breath
  • More energy
  • A greater sense of control over their COPD

Participating in pulmonary rehab also may help prevent hospitalizations for COPD exacerbations. This benefit is substantial in some people with COPD, saving them more than a week per year spent in the hospital.

The benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD seem to decline over time in people who do not continue a high activity level after pulmonary rehab. However, in some people who maintain their exercise and activity level, the benefits from pulmonary rehab for COPD could last for years.

Pulmonary Rehab Guidelines for COPD

Pulmonary health experts have issued guidelines for pulmonary rehabilitation programs to follow. These guidelines are based on the best available studies of pulmonary rehab and its benefits for people with COPD.

Some of the recommendations in the most well-recognized pulmonary rehab guidelines are:

  • Both high-intensity and low-intensity pulmonary rehab exercise programs are effective. But in general, the more vigorous the exercise, the better.
  • All pulmonary rehab exercise programs should include leg exercises.
  • Arm exercises should be "unsupported," working the arms against gravity as well as resistance.
  • People with low oxygen levels should use their supplemental oxygen during pulmonary rehab exercises.
  • Oxygen during high-intensity exercises may help people with normal oxygen levels make gains in endurance.
  • Pulmonary rehab can help people with lung diseases other than COPD, such as interstitial lung disease.

There is no evidence to show one exercise program is better than another. Although "more is better" when it comes to pulmonary rehab exercises, some people may be better able to maintain a lower-intensity exercise program for the long term. Continued exercise is important, even after completing rehab.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 26, 2014
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