Helium-Oxygen Mix Helps COPD Patients Breathe Easier

It may be a better treatment for very ill patients, researchers say

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FRIDAY, April 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Breathing a mixture of 72 percent helium and 28 percent oxygen (Heliox28) helped people with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) improve their distance in an endurance walking test by 64 percent with less shortness of breath, a British study finds.

In this study of 82 COPD patients, researchers tested four different gas mixtures: Heliox28; Heliox21 (79 percent helium and 21 percent oxygen); Oxygen28 (72 percent nitrogen and 28 percent oxygen); and medial air (79 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen).

"Patients walked significantly further while breathing Heliox28," researcher Elizabeth A. Laude, of the University of Sheffield, said in a prepared statement. The study appears in the April 15 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

During the exercise test, the patients received the gas mixtures through face masks.

The researchers conducted the study to test their theory that certain gas mixtures might be better able than normal supplementary oxygen to reduce airway resistance and improve respiratory gas exchange in COPD patients. The study found that COPD patients with the worst lung function test results showed the greatest benefit from the special gas mixtures.

"Although the recent American Thoracic Society/European Respiratory guidelines had recognized COPD is a preventable and treatable condition, it is still regarded by many as one in which significant improvement is not possible," Laude said.

"Our data shows this is not the case," she said. "The changes in endurance exercise and reductions in breathlessness we report while breathing increased inspired oxygen or heliox gas mixtures are substantial, being at least comparable to those achieved with current bronchodilator therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation or even lung volume reduction surgery."

More information

The American Lung Association has more about COPD.

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, April 14, 2006


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