August 24, 2007 / 9:33 PM / 12 years ago

Oxygen therapy benefits only some COPD patients

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Although home use of short-burst oxygen therapy is widely prescribed in the UK for patients with COPD, it may be helpful only in a small minority of patients, researchers report in the current issue of Thorax.

“Short-burst oxygen therapy is used extensively despite little evidence of benefit,” lead investigator Dr. Simon J. Quantrill told Reuters Health. Although “18 million pounds per year are spent on oxygen cylinders used for short-burst oxygen therapy,” he noted, “no guidelines exist on how and when to use short-burst oxygen therapy.”

To investigate whether short-burst oxygen therapy helps COPD patients with daily activities, Quantrill and colleagues at Whipps Cross University Hospital, London, studied 39 patients who all reported that short-burst oxygen therapy was helpful.

They were asked to choose two routine activities, such as walking upstairs or vacuuming, for which they used short-burst oxygen therapy to relieve breathlessness. The patients were then given two cylinders, one of which contained oxygen and the other, compressed air.

Using nasal prongs, the participants inhaled from one cylinder to recover from breathlessness after performing one of the tasks, and then, at least 15 minutes later, they used the other cylinder after repeating the task. The subjects then went on to use the same two-cylinder procedure for their other chosen activity.

Based on the results of pulse oximetry, the average recovery time over two activities was 38 seconds less when oxygen rather than compressed air was inhaled. The recovery time reported by the patients was about the same, at 34 seconds.

Five of the patients were able to correctly identify when oxygen was employed and the difference in recovery times with oxygen versus indicated a greater benefit of oxygen therapy.

“There may be a small group of patients with severe COPD who do in fact benefit” from short-burst oxygen therapy, Quantrill said.

Nevertheless, he noted, “this needs further research with bigger numbers of patients.” Moreover, Quantrill concluded, “further research is needed to be able to produce guidelines on short-burst oxygen therapy usage.”

SOURCE: Thorax, August 2007.

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