Background: Pulmonary rehabilitation is known to be a beneficial treatment for COPD patients. To date, however, there is no agreement for how long a rehabilitation program should be implemented. In addition, current views are that pulmonary rehabilitation does not improve FEV1 or even slow its decline in COPD patients. The aim of the study was to examine the efficacy of a 3 year outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) program for COPD patients on pulmonary function, exercise capability, and body mass index (BMI).
Methods: A matched controlled trial was performed with outcome assessments evaluated at 6, 12, 18, 24, 30, and 36 months. Eighty patients with moderate to severe COPD (age 63 +/- 7 years; FEV1 48% +/- 14) were recruited. The control group received standard care only, while in addition, the case study group received PR for duration of three years. These groups were matched for age, sex, BMI, FEV1% and number of pack-years smoked.
Results: The decline in FEV1 after the three years was significantly lower in the PR group compared to control, 74 ml versus 149 ml, respectively (p < 0.001). Maximal sustained work and endurance time improved after a short period of PR and was maintained throughout the study, in contrast to the control group (p < 0.01). A decreased BMI was noted in the control group after three years, while in the PR group a mild improvement was seen (p < 0.05).
Conclusion: Three years of outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation resulted in modifying the disease progression of COPD, as well as improving physical performance in these patients.