Pulmonary rehabilitation versus usual care for adults with asthma (Review)

Christian R. Osadnik, Ciara Gleeson, Vanessa M. McDonald, Anne E. Holland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Asthma is a respiratory disease characterised by variable airflow limitation and the presence of respiratory symptoms including wheeze, chest tightness, cough and/or dyspnoea. Exercise training is beneficial for people with asthma; however, the response to conventional models of pulmonary rehabilitation is less clear. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate, in adults with asthma, the effectiveness of pulmonary rehabilitation compared to usual care on exercise performance, asthma control, and quality of life (co-primary outcomes), incidence of severe asthma exacerbations/hospitalisations, mental health, muscle strength, physical activity levels, inflammatory biomarkers, and adverse events. SEARCH METHODS: We identified studies from the Cochrane Airways Trials Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase, ClinicalTrials.gov, and the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform, from their inception to May 2021, as well as the reference lists of all primary studies and review articles. SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials in which pulmonary rehabilitation was compared to usual care in adults with asthma. Pulmonary rehabilitation must have included a minimum of four weeks (or eight sessions) aerobic training and education or self-management. Co-interventions were permitted; however, exercise training alone was not.  DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Following the use of Cochrane's Screen4Me workflow, two review authors independently screened and selected trials for inclusion, extracted study characteristics and outcome data, and assessed risk of bias using the Cochrane risk of bias tool. We contacted study authors to retrieve missing data. We calculated between-group effects via mean differences (MD) or standardised mean differences (SMD) using a random-effects model. We evaluated the certainty of evidence using GRADE methodology. MAIN RESULTS: We included 10 studies involving 894 participants (range 24 to 412 participants (n = 2 studies involving n > 100, one contributing to meta-analysis), mean age range 27 to 54 years). We identified one ongoing study and three studies awaiting classification. One study was synthesised narratively, and another involved participants specifically with asthma-COPD overlap. Most programmes were outpatient-based, lasting from three to four weeks (inpatient) or eight to 12 weeks (outpatient). Education or self-management components included breathing retraining and relaxation, nutritional advice and psychological counselling. One programme was specifically tailored for people with severe asthma.  Pulmonary rehabilitation compared to usual care may increase maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) after programme completion, but the evidence is very uncertain for data derived using mL/kg/min (MD between groups of 3.63 mL/kg/min, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.48 to 5.77; 3 studies; n = 129) and uncertain for data derived from % predicted VO2 max (MD 14.88%, 95% CI 9.66 to 20.1%; 2 studies; n = 60). The evidence is very uncertain about the effects of pulmonary rehabilitation compared to usual care on incremental shuttle walk test distance (MD between groups 74.0 metres, 95% CI 26.4 to 121.4; 1 study; n = 30). Pulmonary rehabilitation may have little to no effect on VO2 max at longer-term follow up (9 to 12 months), but the evidence is very uncertain (MD -0.69 mL/kg/min, 95% CI -4.79 to 3.42; I2 = 49%; 3 studies; n = 66). Pulmonary rehabilitation likely improves functional exercise capacity as measured by 6-minute walk distance, with MD between groups after programme completion of 79.8 metres (95% CI 66.5 to 93.1; 5 studies; n = 529; moderate certainty evidence). This magnitude of mean change exceeds the minimally clinically important difference (MCID) threshold for people with chronic respiratory disease. The evidence is very uncertain about the longer-term effects one year after pulmonary rehabilitation for this outcome (MD 52.29 metres, 95% CI 0.7 to 103.88; 2 studies; n = 42). Pulmonary rehabilitation may result in a small improvement in asthma control compared to usual care as measured by Asthma Control Questionnaire (ACQ), with an MD between groups of -0.46 (95% CI -0.76 to -0.17; 2 studies; n = 93; low certainty evidence); however, data derived from the Asthma Control Test were very uncertain (MD between groups 3.34, 95% CI -2.32 to 9.01; 2 studies; n = 442). The ACQ finding approximates the MCID of 0.5 points. Pulmonary rehabilitation results in little to no difference in asthma control as measured by ACQ at nine to 12 months follow-up (MD 0.09, 95% CI -0.35 to 0.53; 2 studies; n = 48; low certainty evidence). Pulmonary rehabilitation likely results in a large improvement in quality of life as assessed by the St George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) total score (MD -18.51, 95% CI -20.77 to -16.25; 2 studies; n = 440; moderate certainty evidence), with this magnitude of change exceeding the MCID. However, pulmonary rehabilitation may have little to no effect on Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire (AQLQ) total scores, with the evidence being very uncertain (MD 0.87, 95% CI -0.13 to 1.86; 2 studies; n = 442). Longer-term follow-up data suggested improvements in quality of life may occur as measured by SGRQ (MD -13.4, 95% CI -15.93 to -10.88; 2 studies; n = 430) but not AQLQ (MD 0.58, 95% CI -0.23 to 1.38; 2 studies; n = 435); however, the evidence is very uncertain. One study reported no difference between groups in the proportion of participants who experienced an asthma exacerbation during the intervention period. Data from one study suggest adverse events attributable to the intervention are rare.  Overall risk of bias was most commonly impacted by performance bias attributed to a lack of participant blinding to knowledge of the intervention. This is inherently challenging to overcome in rehabilitation studies.  AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Moderate certainty evidence shows that pulmonary rehabilitation is probably associated with clinically meaningful improvements in functional exercise capacity and quality of life upon programme completion in adults with asthma. The certainty of evidence relating to maximal exercise capacity was very low to low. Pulmonary rehabilitation appears to confer minimal effect on asthma control, although the certainty of evidence is very low to low. Unclear reporting of study methods and small sample sizes limits our certainty in the overall body of evidence, whilst heterogenous study designs and interventions likely contribute to inconsistent findings across clinical outcomes and studies. There remains considerable scope for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD013485
Number of pages89
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2022

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