Background and objective: Exacerbations of COPD are often characterized by increased mucus production that is difficult to treat and worsens patients' outcome. This study evaluated the efficacy of a chest physiotherapy technique (expiration with the glottis open in the lateral posture, ELTGOL) during acute exacerbations of COPD using as outcome measures sputum volume, length of hospitalization, reduction in dyspnoea (Borg score), improvement in quality of life (assessed by the St George Respiratory Questionnaire) and incidence of COPD exacerbations during follow up.
Methods: The study recruited 59 patients hospitalized for the treatment of acute exacerbation of COPD, who were randomly assigned to a control group and an intervention group. The control group was treated with standard medical therapy while the intervention group was treated with ELTGOL plus medical therapy. A subgroup of patients was followed for 6 months to verify the effects on COPD exacerbations and need for hospitalizations.
Results: At the time of hospital discharge there was no significant difference between the two groups in the outcome measures, with the exception of the Borg score, which was significantly improved in the ELTGOL group (4.3 +/- 1.5 in the control group vs 3.0 +/- 1.8 in the ELTGOL group, P = 0.004). After 6 months there was no significant difference in the other measured parameters between a subset of the groups available for follow up. During follow up, the ELTGOL group had numerically fewer exacerbations and less need for hospitalization though differences were not statistically significant.
Conclusions: Chest physiotherapy using the ELTGOL technique has a limited role in patients with mild exacerbation of moderate to severe COPD with a tendency towards fewer exacerbations and hospitalizations.