According to a new study, oxygen therapy may not help patients in the less severe stages of COPD, a finding the researchers say may change clinical practice. A common treatment for COPD is supplemental oxygen, which is a therapy that has been proven to prolong the lives of COPD patients with severe decreases in their blood oxygen levels, says Dr Robert Wise, the corresponding author of the study. Wise adds that what has been unclear is whether the therapy benefits patients with moderately low oxygen levels either at rest or when they exert themselves.
For the study, the researchers randomly assigned 738 COPD patients to receive supplemental oxygen or not. All patients had moderately low oxygen levels in their blood, either persistently or when they were physically active. Over the following 6 years, there was no evidence that the oxygen-therapy group fared any better, according to a HealthDay report. The researchers found that the therapy did not improve a patients’ quality of life, forestall hospitalization, or lengthen their lives.
According to Wise, the study did not clearly reveal why, but he says it appears that the harmful effects of low blood oxygen may only arise at a certain threshold. As such, COPD patients with moderately low levels may not have much to gain from supplemental oxygen. However, Wise stressed that the results do not mean oxygen therapy is useless as its does help patients with more severe oxygen deficits. Also, some people with moderately low levels may benefit.
“Certain patients with exercise-induced hypoxemia may feel better with supplemental oxygen. But if you’re not receiving symptomatic benefit, talk to your doctor. Doctors and patients now have this important new evidence to use in discussing the therapy,” says Wise. Besides the lack of benefit for certain patients, Wise also says oxygen therapy, though safe, may have some drawbacks, including the potential to contribute to fires because oxygen feeds combustion and the possibility of patients tripping over equipment, which is a particular danger for the elderly.
The HealthDay report notes that both Wise and Dr Magnus Ekstrom, a respiratory medicine specialist at Sweden’s Lund University, agree that doctors and patients should discuss the pros and cons of oxygen therapy and stress that there are other treatments for COPD, such as pulmonary rehabilitation programs, medications, and nutrition counseling. Wise says, “This study does not imply there’s nothing we can do. COPD is preventable and treatable.”