Background: The optimal frequency of delivering a pulmonary rehabilitation program (PR) is not yet a well established issue. It is still unclear whether repeated PR at established intervals will result in effective maintenance or further improvement in the patient's health status.
Objectives: To investigate whether more frequently repeated PR in patients with COPD (1) leads to similar short and long-term physiological gains, and (2) decreases the burden due to hospitalization.
Methods: Thirty-five disabled COPD patients (FEV(1) below 50% predicted, MRC score 3) in a stable state were studied in a randomized controlled trial. After completing an initial inpatient PR program, they were randomly assigned to either group 1 (performing a second and a third PR after 6 and 12 months) or group 2 (performing only a second PR after 12 months).
Results: Lung functions, exercise capacity (by means of a timed walk test - 6MWT), peak-effort dyspnea (D) and leg fatigue (F), and health-related quality of life by means of SGRQ were assessed prior to (T1, T3, T5) and after (T2, T4, T6) each PR program: the same measures were taken on an outpatient basis at T3 in group 2. The number of hospital admissions (HA) and days spent in the hospital (DH) were also recorded over the year. The two groups did not differ in any parameter at baseline. 6MWD, D, F and SGRQ improved to the same level (p = 0.05) after each PR in both groups. However, the baseline level of D, F and SGRQ symptoms and impact scores progressively improved over time in group 1 but not in group 2. After 12 months, a larger amount of patients in Group 1, as compared to Group 2, reported H10 DH/year (p < 0.0001).
Conclusions: In severe and disabled COPD, a more frequently repeated inpatient PR may lead to some additional physiological and clinical benefits over 1 year.