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Weekend Doctor: Pulmonary rehabilitation

By Sherrie Schreck, RRT
Pulmonary Rehab, Blanchard Valley Hospital

Is difficulty breathing making it harder to do the things you want to do? Has it become harder to get the mail, do simple cleaning, or get groceries? If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interstitial lung disease, asthma, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, recovering from lung surgery or other breathing-related problems, pulmonary rehabilitation is a program that can improve your quality of life. For many patients diagnosed with chronic lung conditions, attending pulmonary rehabilitation can be a lifesaver.

What is pulmonary rehabilitation?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a gradual exercise and education program to help people with chronic (long-term) lung diseases. It will not cure your lung disease, but you may notice fewer breathing problems, more strength and improved quality of life. Your pulmonary rehabilitation may be overseen by respiratory therapists, nurses, exercise physiologists and physicians. They will help design a personal program for you. Your program will include an initial assessment with a walk test to monitor oxygen levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and the distance you are able to walk in six minutes.

During your pulmonary rehab program, you will learn everything you need to know about your specific chronic lung disease, including symptoms, medications and oxygen. You will receive education on how to deal with your chronic lung condition, learn exercises to help you feel better and do more, and you will learn ways to cope mentally and emotionally with your lung condition.

You will attend supervised exercise classes that include stretching, strength exercises, and cardiovascular exercise like walking, using a bike or recumbent stepper. Because of breathing challenges, people with chronic lung disease tend to avoid exercise. The right amount and type of exercise can help improve your strength, increase energy levels and help you use oxygen more efficiently.

Where is pulmonary rehabilitation done? How often do I have to go?

Most pulmonary rehabilitation programs will be done at your local hospital or outpatient health center. Pulmonary rehabilitation is usually two to three times a week for 12 or more weeks. You will need to try to attend every session to get the most out of the program. It may be hard and take some time, but, it will be worth the benefits in the end.

How does pulmonary rehabilitation work?

Chronic lung disease can cause your muscles to become weak. The muscles involved in breathing and in moving must be re-strengthened. You will have your own exercise program designed to improve your strength and endurance.

All pulmonary rehab patients are taught pursed lip breathing to help increase oxygen levels and better manage symptoms. You will be taught to check your oxygen level and take preventative measures to increase your oxygen level before it gets too low.

How effective is pulmonary rehabilitation?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is effective if you put effort into it. You will get the best results if you continue to exercise after completing your pulmonary rehabilitation program. Insurance and Medicare usually pay for some or all of the cost of pulmonary rehab. Contact your healthcare provider if you have questions or think that pulmonary rehab might be right for you.