Early stage COPD carries a significant healthcare burden that is currently underrecognised, underdiagnosed and undertreated. Furthermore, patients at this stage can rapidly decline to advanced disease, especially if they continue to smoke. The natural history of the disease in early stages remains largely unknown, and emerging evidence indicates that we are able to reduce lung function decline and exacerbations, and improve quality of life, in early stage COPD, mainly through smoking cessation. But new evidence from randomised clinical trials also suggests an impact of pharmacotherapy on clinical outcomes in early disease. Guidelines need to be updated to reflect this greater understanding of early stage disease, and trials need to be conducted to definitively show the benefits of intensive treatment so that we can meet the large, unmet clinical needs of this important patient group.
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