Local medical program helps patients breathe easy

Cincinnati’s VA Medical Center stands as only the second of its kind to receive a certification to help rehabilitate people who suffer from the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

The Cincinnati Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program for COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) was certified by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation.
COPD refers to chronic bronchitis and emphysema, two commonly co-existing diseases of the lungs that limit airflow. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of the condition, which gets worse over time and causes difficulty breathing, coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, chest tightness and other symptoms.

While there is no cure for COPD, with medical help, it can be managed. "We educate patients about breathing during daily activities, nutrition and about ways to compensate for breathlessness, like using a chair or even using oxygen while in the shower to avoid shortness of breath,” according to Ralph Panos director of the program and professor at UC Medical college. "There is no way to improve lung mechanics, but we teach patients to optimize other body systems to reduce the sensation of breathlessness.”

Panos and his team teach patients how to breathe, even when they feel breathless, and talk about how proper nutrition can help reduce breathlessness.

"It’s basically about feeling in control of the illness, increasing stamina and tolerating the breathlessness associated with COPD,” says Panos. "Anxiety can lead to hyperventilation that causes dynamic hyperinflation—air trapping—causing the lungs to hold onto air and putting respiratory muscles at a disadvantage. We try to teach correct breathing techniques, such as pursed lip breathing, to prevent or reduce air trapping.”

Much of the treatment is about making patients feel like in control of their breathing. Panos tells UC that while the certification will likely put the spotlight on the local VA, he hopes it also will bring more awareness about the life-threatening condition.

“COPD is a huge local medical issue, and there is a significant negative stigma attached to it,” Panos says. “While we have medicines to benefit patients, we need to focus on the holistic treatment of patients for best outcomes.”

By Evan Wallis
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