Oct. 16, 1998 By Corey Stevens
GAINESVILLE, Fla.---Unlike other transplant patients who develop brittle bones after surgery from anti-rejection drugs, lung patients often acquire the problem long before they reach the operating room. That's because the anti-inflammatory and steroid medications they use to treat their lung conditions often cause bones to thin.
Long-term UF studies have shown that pumping iron can counteract rapid bone loss in patients after an organ transplant. But for the first time, it appears the regimen also can help lung patients awaiting surgery, a University of Florida physiologist told colleagues Friday (10/16) at the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation annual meeting in Denver.
"It is well known that people who do weight training have strong bones. However, resistance training for patients with weak bones usually isn't recommended by doctors because they are afraid patients could get injured," said Randy W. Braith, an associate professor of cardiology and physiology at UF's College of Medicine. Braith is also an associate professor in UF's College of Health and Human Performance's department of exercise and sport science.
The problem of brittle bones, commonly know as osteoporosis, is sometimes so serious that life or death hang in the balance for transplant patients. One lung transplant candidate said his concern about being refused a life-saving lung transplant because of his advanced osteoporosis prompted him to work with Braith.
"Had I not done the weight training, I might not have been considered as highly a candidate for a new lung," said Mitch Davey, a 41-year-old north Central Florida resident.
Building on previous research results involving heart transplant patients, Braith compared Davey's bone mineral density levels before and after strength training.
At the end of the four-month program, Davey increased his lower spine and hip bone mass by 3 percent. During the twice-a-week training program, he exercised on eight different machines, each time performing one set of low back exercises that isolates the lumbar spine.
"Gaining density in the lumbar spine is especially important because up to 35 percent of transplant patients have bone fractures there," Braith said.
Results mirrored those found with heart transplant patients who followed the same exercise routine post-surgery to restore bone mineral density levels to their pre-surgery levels.
The usual treatment for osteoporosis, oral calcium supplements and hormone replacement therapy, does not work with transplant patients because the anti-rejection steroids they take are too powerful, said Braith.
Transplant patients use immune-suppression medications so the body's immune system won't attack the foreign organ. If patients go without the medications, a biopsy of the donated organ must be obtained nearly every two weeks in a painful and invasive daylong procedure.
"Weight training is a more practical alternative to increasing bone mineral density than to discontinue anti-rejection medications and be forced to have frequent biopsies to check the condition of the organ," Braith said.
Davey, who received a lung transplant in June, said exercising has the added benefit of helping him feel better about his situation.
"When I feel better physically, it helps me emotionally to feel more positive because I can see improvements," he said.
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