Not all patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) experience similar benefits after pulmonary rehabilitation (PR). This pre–post PR study used a large sample of patients with COPD to determine whether PR-induced changes of oxygen uptake (V˙O2) kinetics and exercise responses of V˙O2, carbon dioxide output (V˙CO2), minute ventilation (V˙E), V˙E/V˙CO2, breathing frequency, and tidal volume differed between responders and nonresponders to PR.
Responders to PR were defined as patients with a minimal clinically important increase in endurance time of 105 s. Isotime (=180 s) values of V˙O2, V˙CO2, V˙E, V˙E/V˙CO2, breathing frequency, and tidal volume; gains of V˙O2, V˙CO2, and V˙E; and V˙O2 mean response time of 183 patients with COPD (forced expiratory volume in 1 s: 56% ± 19% predicted) were compared between pre- and post-PR constant work rate tests.
After PR, only the group of responders significantly decreased V˙O2 mean response time (P < 0.05), V˙CO2 gain, V˙E gain, and isotime values of V˙CO2, V˙E, and V˙E/V˙CO2 (all, P < 0.001), while also improving their breathing pattern (e.g., decreased breathing frequency isotime value; P < 0.0001). These changes were not observed in the group of nonresponders. Changes in physiological exercise responses were correlated with changes in physical performance (e.g., correlation between changes in V˙O2 mean response time and endurance time: P = 0.0002, r = −0.32).
PR-induced changes in physiological exercise responses differed between responders and nonresponders. Physiological changes are relevant to explain the variable improvements of physical performance after PR in patients with COPD.