Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a multicomponent disease with inflammation at its core, and a major cause of morbidity and mortality. It represents a substantial economic and social burden throughout the world. Currently, COPD is the fifth leading cause of death worldwide, and despite advances in management, mortality is expected to increase in the coming decades, in marked contrast to other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, where there have been considerable decreases in mortality. On a patient level, the burden of COPD to patients and their families and carers is high, both in terms of health-related quality of life and health status. Health care providers and patients often underestimate the substantial morbidity associated with COPD; the condition is also frequently underdiagnosed and undertreated, which further compromises morbidity. Reducing the burden of COPD requires better evaluation and diagnosis, as well as improved management of chronic symptoms. As exacerbations and hospitalizations represent an important driver of the cost and morbidity of COPD, high priority should be given to interventions aimed at delaying the progression of disease, preventing exacerbations, and reducing the risk of comorbidities to alleviate the clinical and economic burden of disease.