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  • image Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a treatable and preventable disease characterized by progressive airflow limitation that is not fully reversible and is associated with an abnormal inflammatory response of the lungs to noxious particles or gases.

  • image Mortality from COPD has increased steadily over the past three decades; it is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

  • image The primary cause of COPD is cigarette smoking, implicated in 75% of diagnosed cases in the United States. Other risks include genetic predisposition, environmental exposures (including occupational dust and chemicals), and air pollution.

  • image In patients with COPD, staging of airflow limitation (GOLD 1-4) is classified by spirometry measurements. Disease severity (Category A-D) is classified using a combined assessment of symptom score, as measured by a validated questionnaire, and risk for future exacerbations.

  • image Smoking cessation and avoidance of other known toxins are the only management strategies proven to slow COPD progression.

  • image Oxygen therapy can reduce mortality in selected patients with COPD. Oxygen therapy is indicated for patients with a resting PaO2 of less than 55 mm Hg (7.3 kPa) or a PaO2 of less than 60 mm Hg (8.0 kPa) and evidence of right-sided heart failure, polycythemia, or impaired neurologic function.

  • image Inhaled bronchodilators are the mainstay of drug therapy for COPD and are used to relieve patient symptoms and improve exercise tolerance and quality of life. Guidelines recommend short-acting bronchodilators as initial therapy for patients with occasional symptoms and all patients as rescue therapy to relieve symptoms.

  • image For patients experiencing persistent symptoms, either a long-acting β2-agonist (LABA) or long-acting anticholinergic (LAMA) offers significant benefits, and both are of comparable efficacy. If a patient has continued symptoms, combining long-acting bronchodilator agents (LABA plus LAMA) is recommended.

  • image For patients at high risk for future exacerbations, either a long-acting β2-agonist (LABA) or long-acting anticholinergic (LAMA) is effective at reducing exacerbation frequency. Anticholinergic agents are more effective at reducing exacerbation frequency and should be considered first-line. If a patient has continued exacerbations or has more severe disease, combining long-acting bronchodilator agents (LABA plus LAMA) is recommended.

  • image The role of inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) therapy in COPD is controversial. Patients with frequent and severe exacerbations may benefit from ICS therapy, although the risk of pneumonia is increased.

  • image Acute exacerbations of COPD (AECOPD) have a significant impact on disease progression and mortality. Treatment of acute exacerbations includes intensification of bronchodilator therapy and a short course of systemic corticosteroids.

  • image Antimicrobial therapy should generally be used during AECOPD if the patient exhibits at least two of the following: increased dyspnea, increased sputum volume, and increased sputum purulence. A C-reactive protein (CRP) test may be helpful to guide the decision to treat a COPD exacerbation with antibiotics.



Watch the video entitled “Pathophysiology of Large and Small Airway Disease in COPD” in AccessPharmacy by Scott Stern, MD. This 5-minute video ...

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