Guideline for the management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): 2004 revision

E D Bateman, C Feldman, J O'Brien, M Plit, J R Joubert
South African Medical Journal 2004, 94 (7 Pt 2): 559-75

OBJECTIVE: To revise the South African Guideline for the Management of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in the light of new insights into the disease and the value of new treatment approaches and drugs. New aspects considered include: A growing awareness of the impact of COPD in South Africa, and the urgent need for prevention strategies. The role of concurrent exposures to domestic and occupational atmospheric pollution, and previous lung infections including tuberculosis. The need to consider as goals of treatment both prevention of exacerbations and improvement of quality of life (health status) of patients with COPD. The development of both long-acting beta2-agonist and anticholinergic drugs for use in COPD. Emerging evidence on a limited role for inhaled corticosteroids in the treatment of COPD.

RECOMMENDATIONS: These include primary and secondary prevention; early diagnosis; staging of severity; assessment of reversibility with bronchodilator and, in some, responsiveness to corticosteroids; use of bronchodilators and other forms of treatment; rehabilitation; and treatment of complications. Advice is provided on the management of acute exacerbations, and the approach to air travel, prescribing long-term oxygen, and lung surgery including lung volume reduction surgery. Prevention, both primary and secondary, remains the most cost-effective measure in the management of COPD, and deserves more emphasis, particularly on the part of health care professionals. Primary prevention involves reducing public exposure to cigarette and other forms of smoke, and reduction of atmospheric pollution, and secondary prevention limits exposure and resultant progression in those with established disease. Spirometry is essential for the diagnosis of COPD and in staging severity. In addition, a new classification of severity that considers other indices of functional impairment is provided. Treatment involves a progression from 'as-needed' bronchodilators, through the addition of other more effective bronchodilators, usually in combination, in more severe stages. The importance of assessing potential reversibility in every patient with persistent symptoms, and of the limited role of oral and inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), is emphasised. These approaches also reduce exacerbations and may result in cost savings and improved prognosis. A practical low-cost approach to rehabilitation is proposed.

OPTIONS: Treatment recommendations are based on the following: the recommendations of the Global Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) initiative, which provides an evidence-based comprehensive and up-to-date review of treatment options; independent evaluation of the level of evidence in support of some of the new treatment trends; and consideration of factors that influence COPD management in South Africa, including lung co-morbidity and drug availability and cost.

OUTCOMES: The use of bronchodilators is driven by the presence of symptoms, but regular assessment of benefit, based on objective criteria, is essential. Several forms of treatment reduce exacerbations, the most effective of these is smoking cessation.

EVIDENCE: Working group of clinicians and clinical researchers following detailed literature review, particularly of studies performed in South Africa, and the GOLD guidelines.

BENEFITS, HARMS AND COSTS: The guideline pays particular attention to cost-effectiveness in South Africa, and promotes the initial use of less costly options. It rejects empirical use of corticosteroids both oral and inhaled, and promotes smoking cessation, and selection of treatment based on objective evidence of benefit. It also rejects a nihilistic or punitive approach, even in those who are unable to break the smoking addiction.

VALIDATION: The COPD Working Group comprised experienced pulmonologists representing all university departments in South Africa and some from private practice. All contributed to the development of the previous version of the South African guideline, and attend international meetings. One (JRJ) represents South Africa on the GOLD Guideline Executive. GUIDELINE SPONSOR: The meeting of the Working Group of the South African Thoracic Society was sponsored by an unrestricted educational grant from Boehringer Ingelheim (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd.

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