Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a multicomponent disease. These components affect both the lungs and organs outside the lungs (the so-called systemic effects of COPD) and can be of either a structural (including airway remodelling, emphysema, skeletal muscle wasting) or functional nature (inflammation, apoptosis, senescence). Further, these components are interdependent in a closely linked 'vicious cycle'. Accordingly, optimal therapies should therefore aim to address more than one of these components to break such a cycle. This needs to be considered not only in the development of future treatments but also in the current clinical management of patients with COPD. In this paper, evidence that supports the concept that COPD is a multicomponent disease is presented. The effects of currently available therapeutic options, including long-acting anticholinergics and long-acting beta2-agonist/inhaled corticosteroid combination therapies, upon each of these components is reviewed. In addition, potential new avenues for drug development and improved patient care are highlighted. By developing a better understanding of how different therapies impact upon the 'vicious cycle' of COPD, treatment regimens can be optimised to provide the greatest benefits to patients.