Current treatments have failed to stem the continuing rise in health care resource use and fatalities associated with exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Reduction of severity and prevention of new exacerbations are therefore important in disease management, especially for patients with frequent exacerbations. Acute exacerbation treatment includes short-acting bronchodilators, systemic corticosteroids, and antibiotics if bacterial infections are present. Oxygen and/or ventilatory support may be necessary for life-threatening conditions. Rising health care costs have provided added impetus to find novel therapeutic approaches in the primary care setting to prevent and rapidly treat exacerbations before hospitalization is required. Proactive interventions may include risk reduction measures (eg, smoking cessation and vaccinations) to reduce triggers and supplemental pulmonary rehabilitation to prevent or delay exacerbation recurrence. Long-term treatment strategies should include individualized management, addressing coexisting nonpulmonary conditions, and the use of maintenance pharmacotherapies, eg, long-acting bronchodilators as monotherapy or in combination with inhaled corticosteroids to reduce exacerbations. Self-management plans that help patients recognize their symptoms and promptly access treatments have the potential to prevent exacerbations from reaching the stage that requires hospitalization.
Keywords: COPD; anticholinergics; beta-agonists; self-management plan.