Purpose of review: In the clinical setting, patients who present with a combination of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)-related traits are not uncommon. This review discusses recent advances in the characterization of the natural course, phenotypes, and molecular markers of cases with coexisting asthma and COPD and in the understanding of the nature of the link between these two conditions.
Recent findings: Recent epidemiological evidence indicates that asthma accounts for a substantial proportion of cases of irreversible airflow limitation in the general population and that, in addition to the critical role of environmental exposures in adult age, alterations of developmental processes in childhood may also predispose patients with asthma to COPD later in life. Findings from clinical and experimental studies emphasize the existence of remarkable heterogeneity within the group of patients with coexisting asthma and COPD in terms of natural history of lung function, risk factors for disease progression, lung structural changes, and immunological profiles.
Summary: The phenotypic complexity of cases with coexisting asthma and COPD challenges a rigid categorization of patients into existing diagnostic labels and suggests the importance of integrating clinical, functional, morphologic, immunological, and molecular assessments to tailor and optimize prevention and treatment.