Rehabilitation of patients admitted to a respiratory intensive care unit

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1998 Jul;79(7):849-54. doi: 10.1016/s0003-9993(98)90369-0.


Objective: Pulmonary rehabilitation has been shown to be of benefit to clinically stable patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This study examined the effect of pulmonary rehabilitation on some physiologic variables in COPD patients recovering from an episode of acute respiratory failure.

Design: A prospective, randomized study.

Setting: A respiratory intensive care unit (RICU).

Patients: Eighty COPD patients recovering from an episode of acute respiratory failure were randomized in a 3:1 fashion to receive stepwise pulmonary rehabilitation (group A, n=60 patients) or standard medical therapy (group B, n=20 patients).

Main outcome measures: Improvements in exercise tolerance, sense of breathlessness, respiratory muscle function, and pulmonary function test values were measured, respectively, by exercise capacity (6-minute walking distance [6MWD]), dyspnea score (Visual Analog Scale [VAS]), maximal inspiratory pressure (MIP), forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1), and forced vital capacity (FVC).

Interventions: Group A received pulmonary rehabilitation that consisted of passive mobilization (step I), early deambulation (step II), respiratory and lower skeletal muscle training (step III), and if the patients were able, complete lower extremity training on a treadmill (step IV). Group B received standard medical therapy plus a basic deambulation program.

Results: Sixty-one of 80 patients were mechanically ventilated at admission to the unit and most of them were bedridden. Twelve of the 60 group A patients and 4 of the 20 group B patients died during their RICU stay, and 9 patients required invasive mechanical ventilation at home after their discharge. The total length of RICU stay was 38+/-14 days for patients in group A versus 33.2+/-11 days for those in group B. Most patients from both groups regained the ability to walk, either unaided or aided. At discharge, 6 MWD results were significantly improved (p < .001) in Group A only. MIP improved in Group A only (p < .05), while VAS scores improved in both groups, but the improvement was more marked in group A (p < .001) than in group B (p < .05).

Conclusions: COPD patients who were admitted to a RICU in critical condition after an episode of acute respiratory failure and who, in most cases, required mechanical ventilation benefited from comprehensive early pulmonary rehabilitation, compared with patients who received standard medical therapy and progressive ambulation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cause of Death
  • Critical Care*
  • Exercise Test
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / mortality
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / rehabilitation*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / mortality
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / rehabilitation*
  • Treatment Outcome