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February 26, 2019

Diagnosis and Outpatient Management of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Review

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Pulmonary, Department of Medicine, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
JAMA. 2019;321(8):786-797. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.0131

Importance  There are 30 million adults (12%) in the United States who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease accounts for 3.2% of all physician office visits annually and is the fourth leading cause of death (126 000 deaths per year). Most patients are diagnosed by their primary care clinicians who must address the highly variable clinical features and responses to therapy. The diagnosis and treatment of COPD is rapidly changing, so understanding recent advances is important for the delivery of optimal patient care.

Observations  Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is characterized by incompletely reversible expiratory airflow limitation. Spirometry is the reference standard for diagnosing and assessing the severity of COPD. All patients should be counseled about and receive preventive measures such as smoking cessation and vaccination. Treatment should be guided by the severity of lung impairment, symptoms such as dyspnea, the amount of cough and sputum production, and how often a patient experiences an exacerbation. When dyspnea limits activity or quality of life, COPD should be treated with once- or twice-daily maintenance long-acting anticholinergic and β-agonist bronchodilators. Patients with acute exacerbations may benefit from the addition of inhaled corticosteroids, particularly those with elevated peripheral eosinophil levels. Pulmonary rehabilitation, which includes strength and endurance training and educational, nutritional, and psychosocial support, improves symptoms and exercise tolerance but is underutilized. Supplemental oxygen for patients with resting hypoxemia (defined as Spo2 <89%) improves survival.

Conclusions and Relevance  Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a complicated disease requiring intensive treatment. Appropriate use of long-acting maintenance bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids, and pulmonary rehabilitation decreases symptoms, optimizes functional performance, and reduces exacerbation frequency. Supplemental oxygen in patients with resting hypoxemia prolongs life, and other advanced treatments are available based on specific patient characteristics.