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Negligible Benefit for Oxygen in Patients With Mild COPD

Researchers find oxygen therapy does not improve quality of life, forestall hospitalization, lengthen lives

THURSDAY, Oct. 27, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Oxygen therapy may not help patients in the less severe stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to research published in the Oct. 27 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Robert Wise, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and colleagues randomly assigned 738 COPD patients to receive supplemental oxygen or not. All of the patients had moderately low oxygen levels in their blood — either persistently or when they were physically active.

Over the next six years, the researchers observed no evidence that the oxygen-therapy group fared any better. Oxygen therapy did not improve patients’ quality of life, forestall hospitalization, or lengthen their lives. Two patients had to be hospitalized after tripping over their oxygen equipment, and five patients reported fires or burns.

“Since a lack of evidence of effect is not evidence of a lack of any clinical effectiveness, a trial of oxygen use might still be appropriate in selected patients with moderate exertional hypoxemia and intractable breathlessness despite appropriate evidence-based treatment,” writes the author of an accompanying editorial. “I think that the oxygen treatment should be evaluated by means of blinded exercise tests while the patient is breathing ambient air or oxygen and discontinued if the patient perceives no benefit during the test or within a day or two after it.”

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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