Concepts relating to the natural history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) arise most importantly from the classic study of Fletcher and colleagues (The Natural History of Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema, Oxford University Press, New York, 1976). This study, which evaluated working English men over 8 years, was used to construct a proposed life-long natural history. Although this is a classic study that has greatly advanced understanding of COPD, it has a number of limitations. Its duration is relatively short compared with the duration of COPD, so it is more cross-sectional than longitudinal. It was unable to distinguish among varied "natural histories." It assessed primarily the FEV(1), and the natural history of other features of COPD is largely undescribed. With advances in understanding the clinical features of COPD and with the development of evaluating new tools to assess patients with COPD, longitudinal studies evaluating COPD in novel ways and for longer durations are needed.