Breathe In, Breathe Out

Cardiac surgery patients may benefit from preoperative breathing exercises

December 10, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Cardiac surgery is a big deal. Perhaps preparing the body for recovery beforehand could be a good way to boost the body’s ability to repair itself afterwards.

A recent series of trials tested breathing exercises on 856 elective cardiac surgery patients. Those who did the breathing exercises before their surgery had shorter hospital stays and fewer cases of pneumonia and partial lung collapse after surgery.

“Preoperative physical therapy not only can reduce postoperative pulmonary complications, it can also shorten the hospital stay of patients who elect to have cardiac surgery by an average of three days,” said the lead author.

"Talk to your doctor about how to prepare for surgery."

Erik Hulzebos, PhD, clinical exercise physiologist and physical therapist at the University Medical Center, Utrecht, in the Netherlands, was the lead author of this investigation. For this review, eight trials including 856 cardiac surgery patients were used to test whether preoperative breathing exercises helped postoperative outcomes.

Three of the trials used either aerobic exercises or breathing exercises and five studies used inspiratory muscle training to strengthen the muscles used to inhale.

One of the trials had patients “sham” or fake exercise to create a control group to measure against the patients who did actual exercises.

In four of the trials, which included 379 patients, breathing exercises showed a reduced relative risk of 0.52 for partial lung collapse after surgery.

In five of the trials, which included 448 patients, breathing exercises showed a reduced relative risk of 0.45 for pneumonia after surgery.

Patients who did breathing exercises stayed an average of 3 days less in the hospital after elective cardiac surgery.

Authors said, “One other study reported a better health-related quality of life in experimental (exercise) patients compared to controls.”

Dr. Hulzebos said, “It is important to stratify high and low risk pulmonary risk patients before surgery so the high risk patients can be given tailored care to prevent pulmonary complications post surgery.”

While cost data on preoperative breathing therapy was not reported in this trial series, pneumonia and partial lung collapse after surgery and hospital recovery durations are expensive. This study was published in November in The Cochrane Library. No funding information was provided. No conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
December 6, 2012
Last Updated:
February 20, 2013