Research finds breathing exercises can help prevent pneumonia

It is believed that the breathing tests could half the chances of pneumonia after a major operation. Source: Pixabay

New research lead by the University of Melbourne and the University of Tasmania suggests that hospital patients who receive breathing training before surgery are less likely to develop pneumonia after major abdominal surgery. The Australian and New Zealand study, published in BMJ Open, found that the risk of pneumonia was actually halved after abdominal surgery when a patient was taught breathing exercises they’d need to know immediately after waking from an operation.

Pneumonia can affect anyone at any age, but the risk of contracting the deadly condition increases with age.

It’s also not uncommon for people to come down with chest pains, persistent coughs and breathing problems, all symptoms consistent with pneumonia, following an operation. Some 77,500 Australians are hospitalised with pneumonia each year, while more than a million Americans seek medical assistance with it annually.

The study looked at postoperative outcomes of 441 adults who received either an informational booklet about breathing techniques or a training session from a physiotherapist. Within this booklet, breathing exercises were prescribed and consisted of two sets of 10 slow deep breaths followed by three coughs, to be performed hourly and starting immediately after surgery.

The results suggested that people who had one-on-one training with health professionals slashed their chances of post-surgery lung complications by half. It also suggested that interventions such as these simple training sessions also had the potential to reduce the risk of lung complications by 15 per cent.

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Read more: Three tips for preventing pneumonia

Researchers have suggested that tens of millions of patients who undergo major abdominal surgery each year could benefit from being taught breathing exercises before they go under the knife. These types of surgeries are the most common medical procedures in the developed world, but it’s common for pulmonary complications including pneumonia and a lung collapse to occur after surgery. These surgeries are often used to treat an array of issues such as bowel, liver and even kidney conditions.

While previous studies have investigated the positive impacts of breathing exercises, the new study is the first of its kind to present possibly conclusive evidence they can help reduce breathing complications following an operation. Each of the 441 people who participated in the study were assessed daily for two weeks. Those who received training from health professionals fared better when it came to their pulmonary health, while men and patients who underwent bowel surgery were less likely to develop pneumonia.

The trial found that one in seven patients who received the training before surgery avoided at least one pulmonary complication altogether. Speaking of their findings, researchers said it “provides strong evidence that a single preoperative physiotherapy session that educations patients on the reason and necessity to do breathing exercises immediately after surgery halves the incidence of postoperative respiratory complications.”

The study concluded that a simple 30-minute test can halve cases of hospital acquired pneumonia, but acknowledged that further research was needed to investigate how the tests could benefit long-term health.

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What do you think? Have you ever experienced pneumonia following a hospital stay? Do you think breathing techniques would have helped you?

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