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Thorax. 1989 Aug;44(8):634-9.

Physiotherapy after coronary artery surgery: are breathing exercises necessary?

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  • 1Department of Thoracic Medicine, King's College Hospital, London.


One hundred and ten men undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting took part in a prospective randomised study comparing three physiotherapy protocols. All patients were taught self supported huffing and coughing by a physiotherapist and encouraged to move about. This comprised the sole treatment for the 37 control patients (group 3). Additional physiotherapy included breathing exercises for the 35 patients in group 1 and use of an incentive spirometer for the 38 patients in group 2. Functional residual capacity (FRC) was measured daily at the bedside until the fifth postoperative day and arterial blood gas tensions were measured on the second and fourth postoperative days. After surgery patients developed a severe restrictive ventilatory defect and profound arterial hypoxaemia. There were no differences between the three groups. Mean FRC on day 2 was 1.90 litres (61% of the preoperative value), increasing to 2.32 1 by day 5 (76% of the preoperative value). The mean arterial oxygen tension was 7.37 kPa on day 2 and 8.58 kPa on day 4. Four patients in group 1, two in group 2, and five in group 3 developed a chest infection. It is concluded that the addition of breathing exercises or incentive spirometry to a regimen of early mobilisation and huffing and coughing confers no extra benefit after uncomplicated coronary artery bypass grafting.

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