Objective: To determine the contribution of the various components of a rehabilitation program to the improvement of exercise capacity and health-related quality of life (HRQL) in patients with COPD.
Data sources: MEDLINE (1966 to April 1996) was searched. Abstracts presented at international conferences were also hand searched for additional relevant trials. Bibliographies of the retrieved articles were reviewed. Experts in rehabilitation were consulted to uncover unpublished trials.
Study selection: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of exercise training, breathing exercises, education, and psychosocial support in patients with COPD were primarily included if (1) the treatment effect of a specific component of a rehabilitation program could be isolated, and (2) exercise capacity, HRQL, compliance with medical therapy, and/or knowledge about the disease were measured.
Data synthesis: A best-evidence synthesis was conducted; 22 RCTs contributed to the analysis. We found the following: (1) the patients exposed to interventions that included exercise training improved their functional exercise capacity and HRQL; (2) exercise training was muscle specific; (3) the evidence to support inspiratory muscle training and other breathing exercises as an adjunct to exercise training in COPD remains equivocal; (4) the contribution of education has not been well addressed; and (5) psychosocial support reduced dyspnea acutely and, when used as an adjunct to rehabilitation, promoted compliance with an exercise regimen and improved HRQL.
Conclusion: Respiratory rehabilitation is likely to improve functional exercise capacity and HRQL if it includes exercise training and psychosocial support. Further research is required to better define the types and intensity of exercise as well as the influence of respiratory muscle training and patient education.