The chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbation

Clin Chest Med. 2000 Dec;21(4):705-21. doi: 10.1016/s0272-5231(05)70179-9.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the only leading cause of death with a rising prevalence. The medical and economic costs arising from acute exacerbations of COPD are therefore expected to increase over the coming years. Although exacerbations may be initiated by multiple factors, the most common identifiable associations are with bacterial and viral infections. These are associated with approximately 50% to 70% and 20% to 30% of COPD exacerbations, respectively. In addition to smoking cessation, annual influenza vaccination is the most important method for preventing exacerbations. Controlled O2 is the most important intervention for patients with acute hypoxic respiratory failure. Evidence from randomized, controlled trials justifies the use of corticosteroids, bronchodilators (but not theophylline), noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation (in selected patients), and antibiotics, particularly for severe exacerbations. Antibiotics should be chosen according to the patient's risk for treatment failure and the potential for antibiotic resistance. In the acute setting, combined treatment with beta-agonist and anticholinergic bronchodilators is reasonable but not supported by randomized controlled studies. Physicians should identify and, when possible, correct malnutrition. Chest physiotherapy has no proven role in the management of acute exacerbations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacterial Infections / complications
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / complications
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / therapy*
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / methods
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Theophylline / therapeutic use


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Theophylline