The annual pulmonary rehabilitation awareness week is just around the corner so we thought it would be worth taking some time to look at why it’s so important.

What is pulmonary rehabilitation?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is an exercise and education program designed for people with lung disease who experience symptoms of breathlessness. These predominantly include people who have COPD – the umbrella term for emphysema and bronchitis.

It’s the program patients will be referred to within the NHS as it’s widely recognised as one of the most evidence-based interventions for people with lung disease.

What exactly is COPD?

COPD – or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is

Chronic = the condition is long term and does not go away

Obstructive = because your airways are narrowed it’s much harder to breathe out quickly and air gets trapped in your chest

Pulmonary = it affects your lungs

Disease = it’s a medical condition

is the umbrella term used to describe chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. When you have COPD, airflow obstruction where the airways become narrowed causes difficulties breathing and you become increasingly breathless.

The most common cause of COPD is smoking and air pollution, both of which damage the lungs and make it more difficult to breathe.

Emphysema occurs when the walls between many of the air sacs in the lungs are damaged. In healthy lungs the sacs are elastic or stretchy, and when you inhale, each air sac fills up with air like a small balloon – and the opposite happens with you exhale. When you have emphysema it is much more difficult for your lungs to move air out of your body, so you become breathless.

Chronic bronchitis – when it becomes long term – is when the lining of the airways experience repeated or constant irritation and inflammation. Lots of thick mucus forms in the airways, making it difficult to breathe.

What are the symptoms of COPD?

There are some common symptoms that patients with COPD

  • you easily become out of breath when you do everyday activities like doing housework or going for a walk
  • you have a cough that’s lingered for a long time
  • wheezing
  • you cough up more phlegm (mucus) than usual

How pulmonary rehabilitation can help

There is no cure for COPD so you need to learn how to manage your symptoms and maximise your quality of life. Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program delivered within an NHS setting that supports you by sharing ways that help to control your symptoms and improve your general wellbeing.

Your pulmonary rehab program will last 6 -10 weeks and will take place in a group setting. The exercises will be tailored to your abilities and while in class you will be supervised and encouraged by the team to become more active and manage your symptoms. You will also need to practice some exercises at home.

By getting stronger and feeling less breathless you’ll benefit from being able to:

  • Be more independent – becoming more active by doing the right exercises will have a knock-on effect of making you more confident in taking control of your activity yourself.
  • Improve quality of life – even the most basic of tasks like walking around the shops or climbing the stairs will once again be manageable, helping you to feel more like your pre-COPD self.
  • Manage reactions to symptoms  – practicing your breathing techniques and being able to control your breathing again will reduce the likelihood of panicking if you begin to feel breathless. Being able to control your breathlessness, and not allowing it to control you is key.
  • Meet other people with the same condition – having a support network of people going through a similar experience to you will help you feel less isolated. Pulmonary rehabilitation group sessions are an opportunity to discuss your experiences, share ideas and get ongoing support.
  • Get practical advice – pulmonary physiotherapist and class members can share lots of useful advice with you. Topics such as diet, how to use your inhalers and what to do if you feel unwell will all help you to become more confident.

Watch out for our next post which will cover pulmonary rehabilitation in more detail, and how our respiratory physiotherapy service can help complement it. Or if you’d like to make an appointment call 0207 971 1464 or click here.