Clinical implications of airway hyperresponsiveness in COPD

Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2006;1(1):49-60. doi: 10.2147/copd.2006.1.1.49.


COPD represents one of the leading causes of mortality in the general population. This study aimed at evaluating the relationship between airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) and COPD and its relevance for clinical practice. We performed a MEDLINE search that yielded a total of 1919 articles. Eligible studies were defined as articles that addressed specific aspects of AHR in COPD, such as prevalence, pathogenesis, or prognosis. AHR appears to be present in at least one out of two individuals with COPD. The occurrence of AHR in COPD is influenced by multiple mechanisms, among which impairment of factors that oppose airway narrowing plays an important role. The main determinants of AHR are reduction in lung function and smoking status. We envision a dual role of AHR: in suspected COPD, specific determinants of AHR, such as reactivity and the plateau response, may help the physician to discriminate COPD from asthma; in definite COPD, AHR may be relevant for the prognosis. Indeed, AHR is an independent predictor of mortality in COPD patients. Smoking cessation has been shown to reduce AHR. Further studies are needed to elucidate whether this functional change is associated with improvement in lung function and respiratory symptoms.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / diagnosis
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity*
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Medical Subject Headings
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / mortality
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / physiopathology
  • Smoking / physiopathology