November 30, 2004

Helium Better for Short-Breath Sufferers

Italian researchers say a mix of helium and oxygen may help people with serious breathing difficulties use their lungs more effectively.

A team from Rome's Universita La Sapienza, in a study summarized in this month's issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology, said that while breathing a low-density mixture of 79 percent helium and 21 percent oxygen, the length of time that 12 patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder could do real exercise was 9 minutes, versus only 4.2 minutes for 12 patients breathing regular air, which has 79 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen.

People with COPD, as the ailment is known, have varying degrees of serious breathing difficulties, which keeps them from almost any kind of exercise, especially in advanced stages.

The World Health Organization estimates that COPD, as a single cause of death around the world, shares fourth place with HIV/AIDS, following coronary heart disease, cerebro-vascular disease and acute respiratory infection. WHO estimates that 2.7 million people died of COPD worldwide in 2000; cigarette smoking is blamed for about 85 percent of cases.