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The treatment: Oxygen therapy

New Treatments for COPD: Page 3

By , Caring.com senior editor
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What's new: Replacing oxygen with a mix of helium and oxygen

Standard oxygen therapy benefits patients with advanced COPD by boosting the ability of the lungs to supply oxygen to the blood. Now new research suggests that a better version of this treatment will soon be available. Canadian researchers at the University of Calgary determined that when 60 percent helium was combined with 40 percent oxygen -- making a mixture known as Heliox -- COPD patients were able to increase their exercise capacity by an average of 245 percent. Because helium is less dense than oxygen, it allows COPD sufferers to empty their damaged lungs more completely.

Why it's encouraging: The treatment is already in use by Canada's health services in the province of Alberta as a pilot project, and experts think it will become more widespread. Heliox is also already used in many emergency rooms as a treatment for acute asthma, so hospitals have the treatment available.

What to watch for: Helium is much more expensive than plain oxygen, so it might not be covered by insurance. And while many hospitals have it available onsite, it hasn't been marketed as a home treatment due to cost and the fact that specialized equipment is required for delivery.