Contemporary issues in the care of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Frank L Urbano, Rodolfo M Pascual
Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy: JMCP 2005, 11 (5 Suppl A): S2-13; quiz S14-6

OBJECTIVE: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and is estimated to be responsible for 119,000 deaths in the year 2000 alone. Additionally, COPD places a tremendous burden on the health care system, with estimated annual costs of US 24 billion dollars in 2000, and it is generally expected that costs will continue to rise as more individuals are diagnosed. COPD was responsible for approximately 8 million physician outpatient visits, 1.5 million emergency department visits and 726,000 hospitalizations, also in the year 2000. The objective of this article is to review current, pertinent clinical issues in the management of patients with COPD, with estimates of their relative utility and efficacy.

SUMMARY: COPD is a disease characterized by airflow limitation that is not fully reversible. Patients with COPD may frequently experience symptoms of chronic cough with sputum production, dyspnea, and reduced exercise capacity. They may frequently experience exacerbations characterized by increased symptoms that often require medical intervention. The diagnosis of COPD is usually fairly straightforward and made in a cigarette smoker, with the aforementioned symptoms and airflow obstruction measured by spirometry. Spirometry should be performed in all patients in whom COPD is suspected, as it provides useful prognostic information and may be used to stage the disease. The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) has provided evidenced-based management guidelines for COPD. GOLD guidelines advocate staging COPD by spirometry and make specific treatment recommendations based on COPD stage. The most important risk factor for the development of COPD is cigarette smoking, and smoking cessation has been shown to reduce all-cause mortality and to alter the natural history of COPD. Smoking cessation strategies that employ both counseling and medications like buproprion and nicotine replacement are most effective, but relapse rates remain high. It has not been shown that medications like bronchodilators or inhaled steroids change the natural history of COPD, nor do they reduce mortality, but they can affect other important outcomes. Long-acting bronchodilators, including beta- 2-adrenergic agonists such as salmeterol and formoterol, and the anticholinergic agent tiotropium, improve lung function and exercise tolerance, reduce symptoms, and modestly reduce exacerbation rates. Long-acting bronchodilators are indicated for all COPD patients with chronic symptoms. Short-acting bronchodilators are indicated for rescue when acute symptoms occur. Inhaled corticosteroids minimally improve lung function, but, importantly, reduce exacerbation rates and are indicated in severe COPD or when exacerbations are frequent. Continuous oxygen therapy has been shown to reduce mortality when severe hypoxemia is present and can improve quality of life when moderate hypoxia is present. Finally, well-designed, multidisciplinary disease management programs and pulmonary rehabilitation can improve important disease outcomes in a cost-effective manner.

CONCLUSION: COPD is a common, preventable disease that affects a significant number of people. It may be managed by utilizing various readily available medical therapies, as well as other nonpharmacologic interventions, such as pulmonary rehabilitation. Proper coordination of care is important in this disease, and efforts should be focused on improving quality of life and reduction of symptoms.

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