Weekend Doctor Column
Sherrie Schreck, RRT
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
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.