Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Dis Mon. 1988 Sep;34(9):537-99. doi: 10.1016/0011-5029(88)90015-6.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is equated with chronic bronchitis and emphysema as one disease entity. In COPD airflow limitation is relatively persistent--unlike asthma. Tests for "small-airways disease" form no part of routine practice, for their accuracy in detecting pathological change is debatable. The proteolytic theory of the pathogenesis of emphysema highlights the role of neutrophil elastase, antielastases, oxidants, antioxidants, and thus of potential new treatments. Clinical features of COPD include breathlessness, cough, and sputum, with airflow obstruction and lung hyperinflation. The differential diagnosis includes bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension, but pulmonary fibrosis, etc., is distinguished by radiological infiltrates. Plain chest radiography cannot reliably diagnose emphysema in life, but a new method measuring lung density from the computed tomographic (CT) scan allows location, quantitation, and diagnosis of emphysema (defined by enlargement of distal air spaces) in humans in life. "Pink puffers" with breathlessness, hyperinflation, mild hypoxemia, and a low PCO2 are contrasted with "blue bloaters" with hypoxemia, secondary polycythemia, CO2 retention, and pulmonary hypertension and cor pulmonale. Antismoking measures are a major aim in management. A bronchodilator regimen combining a slow-release oral theophylline with an inhaled beta 2-agonist, ipratropium, and high-dose inhaled steroids is proposed because even modest improvement in obstruction can help these patients. In acute exacerbations with purulent sputum, antimicrobials against Streptococcus pneumoniae and Hemophilus influenzae are used with controlled oxygen therapy aiming to keep the arterial PO2 over 50 mm Hg without the pH falling below 7.25. Influenza prophylaxis is recommended, but pneumococcal vaccination remains debatable. Chronic under-nutrition in "emphysema" implies controlled trials of feeding regimens--but these remain to be assessed. Long-term oxygen therapy is the only treatment known to prolong life in blue bloaters, and oxygen concentrators and transtracheal oxygen delivery are discussed. Pulmonary vasodilators (e.g., beta 2-agonists, hydralazine, nifedipine, angiotensin-converting enzyme [ACE] inhibitors, etc.) have not yet been proved to provide long-term reduction in pulmonary arterial pressure. Blue bloaters have severe nocturnal hypoxemia in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that is corrected by oxygen or the investigational drug almitrine.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / etiology
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / therapy*
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiopathology
  • Sleep / physiology