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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Apr 18;(2):CD005372.

Oxygen therapy during exercise training in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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  • 1West Park Healthcare Centre, Graduate Department of Rehabilitation Science, 82 Buttonwood Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M6M 2J5.



Exercise training within the context of pulmonary rehabilitation improves outcomes of exercise capacity, dyspnea and health-related quality of life in individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Supplemental oxygen in comparison to placebo increases exercise capacity in patients performing single-assessment exercise tests. The addition of supplemental oxygen during exercise training may enable individuals with COPD to tolerate higher levels of activity with less exertional symptoms, ultimately improving quality of life.


To determine how supplemental oxygen in comparison to control (compressed air or room air) during the exercise-training component of a pulmonary rehabilitation program affects exercise capacity, dyspnea and health-related quality of life in individuals with COPD.


All records in the Cochrane Airways Group Specialized Register of trials coded as 'COPD' were searched using the following terms: (oxygen* or O2*) AND (exercis* or train* or rehabilitat* or fitness* or physical* or activ* or endur* or exert* or walk* or cycle*). Searching the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library), MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINAHL databases identified studies. The last search was carried out in June 2006.


Only randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing oxygen-supplemented exercise training to non-supplemented exercise training (control group) were considered for inclusion. Participants were 18 years or older, diagnosed with COPD and did not meet criteria for long-term oxygen therapy. No studies with mixed populations (pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, etc) were included. Exercise training was greater than or equal to three weeks in duration and included a minimum of two sessions a week.


Two review authors independently selected trials for inclusion in the review and extracted data. Weighted mean differences (WMD) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated using a random-effects model. Missing data were requested from authors of primary studies.


Five RCTs met the inclusion criteria. The maximum number of studies compared in the meta-analysis was three (31 on oxygen versus 32 control participants), because all included studies did not measure the same outcomes. When two studies were pooled, statistically significant improvements of oxygen-supplemented exercise training were found in constant power exercise time, WMD 2.68 minutes (95% CI 0.07 to 5.28 minutes). Supplemental oxygen increased the average exercise time from 6 to 14 minutes; the control intervention increased average exercise time from 6 to 12 minutes. Constant power exercise end-of-test Borg score (on a scale from 1 to 10) also showed statistically significant improvements with oxygen-supplemented exercise training, WMD -1.22 units (95% CI -2.39 to -0.06). One study showed a significant improvement in the change of Borg score after the shuttle walk test, by -1.46 units (95% CI -2.72 to -0.19). There were no significant differences in maximal exercise outcomes, functional exercise outcomes (six-minute walk test), shuttle walk distance, health-related quality of life or oxygenation status. According to the GRADE system most outcomes were rated as low quality because they were limited by study quality.


This review provides little support for oxygen supplementation during exercise training for individuals with COPD, but the evidence is very limited. Studies with larger number of participants and strong design are required to permit strong conclusions, especially for functional outcomes such as symptom alleviation, health-related quality of life and ambulation.

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