Objective To evaluate the effects of an early community based pulmonary rehabilitation programme after hospitalisation for acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Design A single centre, randomised controlled trial.
Setting An inner city, secondary and tertiary care hospital in London.
Participants 42 patients admitted with an acute exacerbation of COPD.
Intervention An eight week, pulmonary rehabilitation programme for outpatients, started within 10 days of hospital discharge, or usual care.
Main outcome measures Incremental shuttle walk distance, disease specific health status (St George's respiratory questionnaire, SGRQ; chronic respiratory questionnaire, CRQ) and generic health status (medical outcomes short form 36 questionnaire, SF-36) at three months after hospital discharge.
Results Early pulmonary rehabilitation, compared with usual care, led to significant improvements in median incremental shuttle walk distance (60 metres, 95% confidence interval 26.6 metres to 93.4 metres, P = 0.0002), mean SGRQ total score (-12.7, -5.0 to -20.3, P = 0.002), all four domains of the CRQ (dyspnoea 5.5, 2.0 to 9.0, P = 0.003; fatigue 5.3, 1.9 to 8.8, P = 0.004; emotion 8.7, 2.4 to 15.0, P = 0.008; and mastery 7.5, 4.2 to 10.7, P < 0.001) and the mental component score of the SF-36 (20.1, 3.3 to 36.8, P = 0.02). Improvements in the physical component score of the SF-36 did not reach significance (10.6, -0.3 to 21.6, P = 0.057).
Conclusion Early pulmonary rehabilitation after admission to hospital for acute exacerbations of COPD is safe and leads to statistically and clinically significant improvements in exercise capacity and health status at three months.