Pulmonary Rehab for COPD - Are You a Candidate?

Health Professional

Pulmonary rehab is highly recommended for any person who has at least Level 2 COPD. I learned that years ago, when I was actively working as a nurse. However, when my mother was diagnosed with COPD a few years back, not one of the doctors who cared for her ever mentioned anything about pulmonary rehabilitation. Some recent reading I've been doing has led me to believe this is not unusual.

In fact, pulmonary rehab is an often overlooked resource for COPD patients. This is unfortunate since it can do so much to improve quality of life with this chronic illness.

What Is Pulmonary Rehab?

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a multi-disciplinary team approach of disease management for people with chronic lung diseases designed to help them lead full, satisfying and functional lives. The primary goals of this treatment approach include:

  • Lessening respiratory symptoms and flare-ups
  • Enabling better self-management and control over daily activities of life
  • Increasing physical fitness & ability to exercise
  • Improving emotional well-being
  • Decreasing the frequency of hospitalizations & emergency care

The basic components are as follows:

  • Medical (health professional) management
  • A specific exercise program
  • Breathing exercises aimed at teaching you to breathe more efficiently
  • Education about COPD
  • Improving social/emotional support & coping skills
  • Nutritional counseling

Your team can include doctors, nurses, rehabilitation therapists, counseling experts, social workers, dietitians... and YOU. The program is customized to you and your current health status and abilities. Generally, it is a short-term, outpatient program that lasts about 6 to 8 weeks.

What Are the Benefits?

Any time you are dealing with a chronic illness, then anything you can do to improve quality of life is worth it. Pulmonary rehab is aimed at improving quality of life. But specifically, these are some of the benefit you might expect to achieve:

  • Improving your overall survival from COPD, lengthening your life
  • Increasing your ability to tolerate exercise and activity
  • Helping you to breathe easier for longer periods
  • Improving your overall outlook on life and ability to cope with the ups & downs of a chronic illness

Will Insurance Cover It?

Medicare and other health insurance programs do often offer some type of coverage for pulmonary rehab, but your best bet is to check with your insurance provider on the specifics. You will probably need a referral from your doctor or other healthcare professional.

How Do I Get Pulmonary Rehab?

In an ideal world, every doctor who cares for a patient with COPD would suggest pulmonary rehab as a routine approach to improving care and optimizing life. But we already know this doesn't happen. So, there is nothing wrong with you taking the proactive approach and suggesting it to your doctor yourself

If your doctor isn't a good resource for this for some reason, your local branch of the American Lung Association may be able to help you find a program and navigate getting a referral. If you have more than one choice, then do your homework and ask lots of questions about the different programs available to you. Make sure the one you select is a good fit for you.

If you don't have adequate insurance coverage for an outpatient pulmonary rehab program, perhaps you can work with a personal trainer at your local YMCA or gym. You can even work out a home exercise program using a treadmill, stationary bicycle or handheld equipment such as exercise bands, dumbbells and so on. This approach is not as beneficial, but will still provide some benefits in keeping you functional and fit for a longer period.