Complexity of chronic asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: implications for risk assessment, and disease progression and control

Lancet. 2008 Sep 20;372(9643):1088-99. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61450-6.


Although assessment of asthma control is important to guide treatment, it is difficult since the temporal pattern and risk of exacerbations are often unpredictable. In this Review, we summarise the classic methods to assess control with unidimensional and multidimensional approaches. Next, we show how ideas from the science of complexity can explain the seemingly unpredictable nature of bronchial asthma and emphysema, with implications for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We show that fluctuation analysis, a method used in statistical physics, can be used to gain insight into asthma as a dynamic disease of the respiratory system, viewed as a set of interacting subsystems (eg, inflammatory, immunological, and mechanical). The basis of the fluctuation analysis methods is the quantification of the long-term temporal history of lung function parameters. We summarise how this analysis can be used to assess the risk of future asthma episodes, with implications for asthma severity and control both in children and adults.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / classification
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / classification
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index