Diagnosing and treating COPD: understanding the challenges and finding solutions

Int J Gen Med. 2011;4:729-39. doi: 10.2147/IJGM.S21387. Epub 2011 Oct 28.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by airflow obstruction that is not fully reversible; symptoms include chronic cough, sputum production, and dyspnea with exertion. An estimated 50% of the 24 million adults in the USA who have COPD are thought to be misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. Factors contributing to this include a low awareness of COPD and the initial symptoms of the disease among the general population, acceptance of these symptoms as a consequence of aging or smoking, some symptomatic similarity to asthma, and failure of health care personnel to use spirometry for diagnosis. Increased familiarization with COPD diagnosis and treatment guidelines, and proactive identification of patients with increased risk of developing COPD through occupational, environmental, or lifestyle exposures, will assist in a timely, accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, which will consequently improve patient outcomes. This review addresses the issues surrounding the diagnosis and misdiagnosis of COPD, their consequences, and how COPD can be better managed within primary care, including consideration of COPD care in patient-centered medical home and chronic care models.

Keywords: chronic care model; misdiagnosed; patient-centered medical home; primary care; undiagnosed.