Catch Your Breath
Exploring Treatment Options for COPD
Imagine a beautiful spring day – little to no humidity, a warm breeze tickling your skin, and the air is sweet with honeysuckle.
Where are you? On your porch, in your garden or maybe taking a quiet stroll through your neighborhood?
For millions of Americans suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other chronic respiratory diseases, these activities and others are associated with crippling symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue. Many are familiar with common treatments for these symptoms, such as oxygen therapy and inhaled medication.
Still another type of treatment, perhaps far less familiar, is proven to be highly effective at improving quality of life, known as pulmonary rehabilitation.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a comprehensive, patient-tailored program of education, exercise training and behavior change. Depending on the program, sessions take place two to three times a week for eight to 12 weeks. A typical pulmonary rehabilitation program will include, but is not limited to, the proper use of medications, including oxygen therapy and inhaled medications, techniques to improve breathing and reduce stress, customized exercise training to strengthen muscles and increase stamina and endurance, and assistance with quitting smoking.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD. The benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation for individuals suffering from COPD include increased ability to exercise, reduced shortness of breath, improved feelings of well-being, decreased feelings of depression and stress, and reduced hospital admissions. A recent study by Lindenaur and Associates found that pulmonary rehabilitation within three months of discharge decreased the risk of death by 37% over the year following release in persons hospitalized due to COPD.
In the past, most patients referred for pulmonary rehabilitation suffered from COPD. It is recognized now that pulmonary rehabilitation helps treat other respiratory diseases and conditions other than COPD, such as asthma, pulmonary hypertension, cystic fibrosis, interstitial lung disease and lung cancer.
How does one know if pulmonary rehabilitation is right for them? The COPD Foundation suggests answering the following questions: • Have you been told you have chronic lung disease?
• Do you have symptoms from your chronic lung disease such as shortness of breath, fatigue, cough or wheezing?
• Are you taking medications for your chronic lung disease but feel they are not helping you enough?
• Are you limited in your daily activities due to your chronic lung disease?
If the answer is yes to these questions, then pulmonary rehabilitation may help you. Your trusted health-care provider will determine if you qualify for pulmonary rehabilitation.
Once beginning a program, participants are met with a team of health-care professionals such as nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, dietitians, social workers and respiratory therapists (RTs). Respiratory therapists are specialists, highly trained in the field of pulmonary medicine, and are an integral part of the pulmonary rehabilitation health-care team. Through their education and training, RTs teach patients about their inhaled medications (what they do and when and how to take them to get the most benefit), evaluate the need for oxygen, and provide support in quitting smoking.
RTs can be found in most health-care environments outside of the pulmonary rehabilitation setting, particularly in the hospital setting. Respiratory therapy is a rewarding career and is currently in high demand.
LSU Health Shreveport (LSUHS) offers a bachelor’s degree program in cardiopulmonary science (CPS) in our local area. Upon graduation, students have acquired extensive training in the field of respiratory therapy with additional training in cardiovascular technology. The CPS program has a long-standing, 100% employment rate for graduates and ranks among the top schools in the nation for board exam testing pass rates.
National Pulmonary Rehabilitation Week is observed each year on the second full week of March. In honor of all the healthcare providers who have seen us through the pandemic and future health-care providers, thank you!
Jennifer Anderson, MPH, RRT, assistant professor/director of clinical education, Cardiopulmonary Science Program at the School of Allied Health Professions, LSU Health Shreveport.