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Medical Therapy for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

There is no cure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, but treatment can help slow the progression of the condition. NYU Langone specialists may recommend several different therapies to manage COPD and prevent it from worsening. Medical therapies are often recommended in conjunction with medication for COPD.

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Pulmonary Rehabilitation

The Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation offers people with COPD an evaluation from a certified physical therapist or exercise physiologist, who specializes in how exercise affects body mechanics. The specialist creates a customized exercise program for you based on the evaluation.


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Pulmonary rehabilitation usually includes light aerobic exercise, which lasts anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes. While you exercise, specialists monitor your blood pressure and heart rate to determine your body’s reaction to physical exertion and measure how much oxygen is being pumped through your system.

Your rehabilitation program also involves breathing exercises. Diaphragmatic breathing—in which you focus on using the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen, to breathe—can help keep the airways open, control shortness of breath, and relax the body.

Airway Clearance Therapy

Many people with COPD have a chronic cough and mucus in the airways. Excessive mucus increases shortness of breath and your risk of developing a lung infection.

In airway clearance therapy, manual techniques and devices are used to prevent mucus from building up in the airways. One technique, known as manual chest therapy, or percussion, involves rhythmically clapping the chest to break up mucus in the lungs so it becomes easier to cough up.

Several airway clearance devices are available as well. NYU Langone pulmonologists and physical therapists show you how to use these therapies or devices at home and advise you on how often to practice them.

Oxygen Therapy

If the amount of oxygen in your blood is too low due to lung damage, your doctor my recommend oxygen therapy, which is usually delivered through a tube inserted into the nose called a nasal cannula. Several oxygen-supplying systems are available, including lightweight portable devices that allow you to remain active and use this therapy whenever and wherever you need it.

For people with low blood oxygen levels due to COPD, oxygen therapy is the only treatment that has been shown to prolong life.

Oxygen therapy may initially be given while you exercise or sleep, when your body requires more oxygen. For more severe COPD, your doctor may prescribe continuous oxygen therapy.

Our Research and Education in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.