Background: Respiratory rehabilitation is increasingly recognised as an important part of the management of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The widespread application of such programmes should be preceded by evidence of directly attributable improvements in function. We assessed the effect of respiratory rehabilitation on exercise capacity and health-related quality of life (HRQL) in patients with COPD.
Methods: We carried out a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials of respiratory rehabilitation in patients with COPD that assessed functional or maximal exercise capacity, HRQL, or both. Respiratory rehabilitation was defined as exercise training (for at least 4 weeks) with or without education, psychological support, or both. The most commonly used measure for HRQL was the chronic respiratory questionnaire, in which responses were presented on a 7-point scale. The control groups received no rehabilitation. Within each trial and for each outcome an effect size was calculated; the effect sizes were then pooled by a random-effects model. The overall effect of treatment was compared with its minimum clinically important difference (MCID)--defined as the smallest difference perceived as important by the average patient.
Findings: We included 14 trials. Significant improvements were found for all the outcomes. For two important features of HRQL, dyspnoea and mastery, the overall treatment effect was larger than the MCID: 1.0 (95% CI 0.6-1.5) and 0.8 (0.5-1.2), respectively, compared with an MCID of 0.5. For functional exercise capacity (6-min walk test), the overall effect was 55.7 m (27.8-92.8), and for maximum exercise capacity (incremental cycle ergometer test), 8.3 W (2.8-16.5). Functional exercise capacity showed heterogeneity that could not be explained by the sensitivity analyses.
Interpretation: Respiratory rehabilitation relieves dyspnoea and improves the control over COPD. These improvements are clinically important. The value of the improvement in exercise capacity is not clear. Respiratory rehabilitation is an effective part of care in patients with COPD.