Pulmonary Rehab For COPD

Posted at 4:34 PM, Dec 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-14 17:34:00-05

More than 11 million Americans have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. But an estimated 24 million may have it and not know it because they mistake some of the symptoms as signs of just getting older.

There is no cure for COPD but doctors are testing out a new way of managing the disease.

Forty-five years of smoking have taken their toll on Harold Ridgeway’s health. At 76-years-old he is learning to live with COPD -- an incurable disease found mostly in smokers. Symptoms are similar to bronchitis.

Even though they usually worsen over time, Ridgeway is actually starting to feel better.

“I probably feel a whole lot younger than my 76-years-old,” Ridgeway told Ivanhoe.

That’s because he was one of 14 patients who took part in a University of Alabama research project to improve symptoms of COPD.

“We thought, since we know that rehab and exercise improves functionality of the patients and reduces readmission rates, let’s take the exercise program to the patients’ houses and try to make a difference there,’ Surya Bhatt, MD, Pulmonologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham told Ivanhoe.

Doctors sent patients home with a smartphone. They used skype to coach them through simple pulmonary exercises while monitoring their blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen saturation.

They did this for one hour a day, three days a week, for three months.

“You can’t quit like you could if you were doing it on your own and got tired,” Ridgeway said.

“They have to do this two to three times a week. So for a majority of our patients that’s a huge time and financial constraint which we can easily overcome by having them do this at home,” Dr. Bhatt explained.

In general, about 20 percent of people with COPD are readmitted to a hospital within 30 days. But that wasn’t the case for any of the 14 patients in the study who, like Ridgeway saw significant improvement in their symptoms.

Dr. Bhatt is hoping to expand the study known as “The COPD get with it” program -- and enroll more patients.

He says two-thirds of the healthcare costs of COPD result from hospitalizations, so reducing the number of readmissions could save patients, and the healthcare system, a lot of money.

Contributors to this news report include: Jessica Sanchez, Supervising Producer and Writer; Cortni Spearman, Assistant Producer and Brent Sucher, Editor.

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