BACKGROUND: The widespread application pulmonary rehabilitation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should be preceded by demonstrable improvements in function attributable to the programs. This review updates that reported by Lacasse et al Lancet 1996; 748:1115-1119. OBJECTIVES: To determine the impact of rehabilitation on health-related quality of life (QoL) and exercise capacity in patients with COPD. SEARCH STRATEGY: The 14 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) included in the original meta-analysis were included. Additional RCTs were identified from the Cochrane Airways Group's registry of COPD RCTs using the strategy: [exp, lung diseases, obstructive] and [exp, rehabilitation or exp, exercise therapy] and [research design or longitudinal studies or evaluation study or randomized controlled trial]. Abstracts presented at American Thoracic Society 1980-2000, American College of Chest Physicians 1980-2000 and European Respiratory Society 1987-2000 were also searched. SELECTION CRITERIA: RCTs of rehabilitation in patients with COPD in which quality of life (QoL) and/or functional (FEC) or maximal (MEC) exercise capacity were measured. Rehabilitation was defined as exercise training for at least 4 weeks with or without education and/or psychological support. Control groups received conventional community care without rehabilitation. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Weighted mean differences (WMD) were calculated using a random-effects model. Missing data from the primary study reports were requested from the authors. MAIN RESULTS: 23 RCTs met the inclusion criteria. Statistically significant improvements were found for all the outcomes. In three important domains of QoL (Chronic Respiratory Questionnaire scores for Dyspnea, Fatigue and Mastery), the effect was larger than the minimal clinically important difference of 0.5 units using this instrument. For example Dyspnoea score: WMD 0.98 units, 95% Confidence Interval (95% CI) 0.74 - 1.22 units; n=9 trials. For FEC and MEC, the effect was small and a little below the threshold of clinical significance for the 6- minute walking distance: WMD 49 m, 95% CI: 26 - 72 m; n=10 trials. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Rehabilitation relieves dyspnea and fatigue and enhances patients' sense of control over their condition. These improvements are moderately large and clinically significant. The average improvement in exercise capacity was modest. Rehabilitation forms an important component of the management of COPD.
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