What is Pulmonary Rehab?

The American Thoracic Society and the European Respiratory Society define pulmonary rehabilitation as "an evidence-based, multidisciplinary, and comprehensive intervention for patients with chronic respiratory diseases who are symptomatic and often have decreased daily life activities. Integrated into the individualized treatment of the patient, pulmonary rehabilitation is designed to reduce symptoms, optimize functional status, increase participation, and reduce health care costs through stabilizing or reversing systemic manifestations of the disease." Pulmonary rehabilitation programs involve patient assessment, exercise training, education, nutritional intervention, and psychosocial support. In a broader sense, pulmonary rehabilitation includes a spectrum of intervention strategies integrated into the lifelong management of patients with chronic respiratory disease and involves a dynamic, active collaboration among the patient, family, and health care providers.*

Staff in pulmonary rehab may include nurses, physical therapists, exercise physiologists, respiratory therapists, dieticians, pharmacists and psychologists.
There are typically two phases to pulmonary rehabilitation:
  • Outpatient phase: Usually three to four months of exercise training, monitoring and education designed to improve strength and endurance, manage pulmonary disease risk factors and medications, and lessen exacerbations of pulmonary disease. This phase is usually covered by a person's health insurance plan, but it is wise to check first before enrolling. Also, there may be certain medical criteria that must be met before insurance will cover rehab costs. Most programs will assist patients in determining their coverage for pulmonary rehabilitation.
  • Maintenance: Upon completion of outpatient pulmonary rehab, patients continue their exercise programs at home, in community fitness centers, or in maintenance groups in the pulmonary rehab center.
* American Thoracic Society/European Respiratory Society statement on pulmonary rehabilitation. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2006.