Rehabilitation focuses on better breathing (Dr. Pat Camp)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is largely neglected in health news because of its taint from tobacco smoke, which causes up to 90 per cent of cases. Yet about 13 per cent of Canadians over 35 have it, two-thirds of the cases undiagnosed as current and former smokers chalk up their wheezing, gurgling lungs and shortness of breath to aging.

As research continues to show the rising prevalence of COPD, health authorities across the country are trying to improve access to pulmonary rehabilitation, a specialized physiotherapy aimed at helping patients make the most of their reduced lung capacity. Nothing can turn back permanent lung damage, but exercise, education and camaraderie can make a difference in how people feel and function, says Pat Camp, a PhD physiotherapist and head of St. Paul’s Hospital’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation Clinic in downtown Vancouver.

“It doesn’t necessarily take a lot to get a huge improvement,” says Camp. “You can have great gains when you’re really sick.”

Erin Ellis reports

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