The role of pharmacotherapy in mild to moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major health problem worldwide and most of those afflicted have mild to moderate disease as measured by spirometry. There is mounting evidence that even mild airway obstruction is associated with activity-related dyspnea, exercise limitation, impaired quality of life, increased hospitalization and mortality. As our understanding of the complex, heterogeneous pathophysiology and clinical consequences of milder COPD continues to grow, there is increasing interest in the potential impact of therapeutic interventions beyond smoking cessation. Unfortunately, few clinical trials have included patients with mild to moderate disease and the evidence base for pharmacological treatment in this subpopulation is currently lacking. Recent short-term mechanistic studies confirm that reversal of airway smooth muscle cholinergic tone consistently improves respiratory mechanics during rest and exercise in mild COPD but long-term clinical benefits remain to be evaluated. Secondary analysis of large, prospective studies designed to evaluate the efficacy of long-acting bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids and combination therapy indicate that patients with moderate COPD achieve comparable benefits to those with advanced disease. In the absence of evidence-based guidelines for the management of milder COPD, treatment choices are driven mainly by clinical presentation: for those with persistent and troublesome activity-related dyspnea a trial of inhaled bronchodilator therapy is justified; for those with a propensity for recurrent infective exacerbations, consideration of additional anti-inflammatory treatment seems reasonable. In this paper, we review the current knowledge base and emerging paradigm for the pharmacological treatment of mild to moderate COPD.
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