Asthma-COPD Overlap: What Are the Important Questions?

Chest. 2022 Feb;161(2):330-344. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2021.09.036. Epub 2021 Oct 6.


Asthma-COPD overlap (ACO) is a heterogeneous condition that describes patients who show persistent airflow limitation with clinical features that support both asthma and COPD. Although no single consensus definition exists to diagnose this entity, common major criteria include a strong bronchodilator reversibility or bronchial hyperreactivity, a physician diagnosis of asthma, and a ≥ 10-pack-year cigarette smoking history. The prevalence of ACO ranges from 0.9% to 11.1% in the general population, depending on the diagnostic definition used. Notably, patients with ACO experience greater symptom burden, worse quality of life, and more frequent and severe respiratory exacerbations than those with asthma or COPD. The underlying pathophysiologic features of ACO have been debated. Although emerging evidence supports the role of environmental and inhalational exposures in its pathogenesis among patients with a pre-existing airway disease, biomarker profiling and genetic analyses suggest that ACO may be a heterogeneous condition, but with definable characteristics. Early-life factors including childhood-onset asthma and cigarette smoking may interact to increase the risk of airflow obstruction later in life. For treatment options, the population with ACO historically has been excluded from therapeutic trials; therefore strong, evidence-based recommendations are lacking beyond first-line inhaler therapies. Advanced therapies in patients with ACO are selected according to disease phenotypes and are based on extrapolated data from asthma and COPD. Research focused on defining biomarkers and evidence-based treatment options for ACO is needed urgently.

Keywords: COPD; asthma; asthma-COPD overlap.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / complications*
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • Quality of Life
  • Risk Factors
  • Symptom Flare Up


  • Biomarkers