Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive condition that causes difficulty breathing and is a growing cause of disability. It is also the third leading cause of death in the United States. There is no cure for COPD, but long-term rehab (including exciting new therapies) can be a life-saving solution, restoring function and mobility and increasing patients’ quality of life. According to the National Institutes of Health, COPD is an umbrella for two main conditions: emphysema and chronic bronchitis (many COPD patients have both). Both conditions result from damage to the lungs, usually caused by smoking. In the case of emphysema, the alveoli (or air sacs) that make up the lungs become damaged and lose their shape. In the case of chronic bronchitis, the lining of the airways becomes inflamed, and a layer of mucus builds up. As a result, breathing becomes harder, and day-to-day tasks become more challenging.
What Causes COPD?
According to the NIH, cigarette smoking is the most significant cause of COPD. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, including air pollution, can also cause COPD.
What Are The Symptoms Of COPD
Symptoms can include shortness of breath or wheezing, tightness in the chest, a persistent cough (often with mucus or phlegm), a tired, run down feeling and difficulty with physical activity.
What Treatments Are Available For COPD?
There is no cure but lifestyle changes and treatments, including medication, rehabilitation, and electrical stimulation, can help patients feel better and live with the disease.
Quitting smoking is one of the most important steps in slowing the progression of COPD. Quitting smoking can be difficult—even in life or death situations—and many patients have success with nicotine replacement products and anti-smoking medications prescribed by a doctor. Exercise and diet changes can also improve the prognosis for COPD patients.
In addition to lifestyle changes, your doctor may be able to prescribe medications to relieve symptoms and make breathing easier. These include bronchodilators (administered via inhaler), which relax the muscles around the airways and make it easier to breathe. Steroids can also be used to treat symptoms of COPD. (Steroids are synthetic medications designed to replicate human hormones, and in many cases, they are used to treat inflammation by blocking the body’s natural immune system.) Inhaled steroids can reduce inflammation and are often prescribed for patients with more frequent flare-ups. Short courses of oral steroids (tablets are taken by mouth) may be prescribed for more severe cases. The new drug Roflumilast, an enzyme blocker, is also prescribed to reduce lung inflammation in more severe cases.
Patients with low oxygen levels may need oxygen therapy, and many have had success with portable oxygen units. Some COPD patients use oxygen while sleeping, and others use it full time.
How Can A Rehab Facility Help With COPD?
According to experts at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, pulmonary rehabilitation programs can shorten hospitalizations and improve the quality of life for COPD patients. Light exercise supervised by a therapist can improve strength and breathing capacity. A personalized exercise program created by a rehab facility can help with goal setting and accountability. Nutrition counseling can also help with weight loss and overall health.
Studies have also show that mild electrical stimulation can help with circulation and mobility for COPD patients. A qualified rehabilitation facility can offer an electrical stimulation program that can have life-changing benefits.
Electrical Stimulation For COPD
According to the National Institutes of Health, neuromuscular electrical stimulation can improve muscle performance in COPD patients. After receiving electrical stimulation twice a day for eight weeks, patients in the study experienced less difficulty breathing during exercise. Stimulation to the arms, legs, and body, can Improve circulation and can prepare patients for an exercise program or help with movement and function.
COPD Treatment At Evergreen Health And Rehab
Evergreen’s COPD program is known around the region for offering the most up to date solutions for treating COPD. The cornerstones of Evergreen’s program include electrical stimulation to improve strength and gentle, supervised exercise using the trademarked Omnicycle motorized cycling program. Omnicycle allows patients to exercise—even when they feel too weak to exercise independently. If you or a loved one is looking to breathe easier, talk to your doctor and schedule an evaluation with our COPD specialists.