Those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often complain that exercise is too exhausting and leaves them breathless. An article in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine reports that supervised exercise through pulmonary rehabilitation can actually reduce their feelings of breathlessness, increase their tolerance for exercise and improve their quality of life.
The article's lead author is Richard Casaburi, Ph.D., M.D., a senior investigator at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioMed). He directs the institute's Rehabilitation Clinical Trials Center, a facility that focuses on COPD research. Dr. Casaburi surveyed previous studies on pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD and found that supervised exercise therapy improves aerobic function of the muscles, which helps reduce the breathlessness that is common in COPD.
"These findings are a clear indication that pulmonary rehabilitation can improve the quality of life for those living with COPD," said Dr. Casaburi. "The studies also indicate that pulmonary rehabilitation results in decreased anxiety and depression for COPD patients because they find they can exercise more, and they enjoy the feeling that they have mastered something important in their lives."
COPD, a group of lung diseases that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. The article in the Journal reports that it is on course to be the third most common cause of death worldwide by 2020.
Once a disease primarily of men, it now kills roughly equal numbers of men and women in the U.S. In 2000, COPD was responsible for 8 million physician office visits, 1.5 million emergency department visits and 726,000 hospitalizations (about 13% of all hospitalizations in the U.S.).
While the benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation programs for COPD are well-documented, the Journal article reports that access to this type of therapy is limited, especially among lower-income, minority and rural populations.
"A major stumbling block in providing pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD has been the lack of adequate funding for it," said Dr. Casaburi. "That should begin to change next January, when Medicare starts providing coverage for pulmonary rehabilitation for COPD."
Materials provided by Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioMed). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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