Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a common and debilitating disorder characterized by destruction of the lung and inflammation of the airways. It is often — but not always — associated with smoking, but either way, it is the fourth most common cause of death in the United States and is quickly becoming the third most common cause of death worldwide.
Although shortness of breath, wheezing, and cough are common manifestations of this disorder, exercise intolerance is the most significant limiting factor in an individual’s daily life.
Pulmonary rehabilitation, a new program offered at New York Methodist Hospital, is a specific treatment for COPD that addresses exercise intolerance by improving muscle strength and stamina.
The primary goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is to improve the efficiency of the musculoskeletal system so that the lungs are less stressed and can function for prolonged periods of time—enabling the patient to walk, exercise and perform regular activities.
Pulmonary rehabilitation has been shown to improve three important quality of life aspects in individuals with COPD: 1) exercise capacity, 2) severity of dyspnea (shortness of breath), and 3) health related quality of life. Evidence also shows that rehabilitation reduces frequency of hospitalization, cost of care, anxiety and depression, and cognitive function.
Rehabilitation is generally safe, although screening for cardiovascular disease is necessary due to the increased risk of a cardiac event while exercising. Individuals who are eligible for pulmonary rehabilitation must undergo an evaluation process including cardiopulmonary exercise testing in order to determine their maximum exercise capacity so that an exercise regimen can be determined. Additional testing during therapy may also be necessary to follow a patient’s progress.
For information on pulmonary rehabilitation, contact the Division of Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine at New York Methodist Hospital, (718) 780-5835.