The use of treatable traits to address COPD complexity and heterogeneity and to inform the care

Breathe (Sheff). 2021 Dec;17(4):210118. doi: 10.1183/20734735.0118-2021.


COPD is complex and heterogeneous with respect to its aetiology, clinical presentation, phenotypes and biological mechanisms. Despite this, COPD is still diagnosed and treated according to simple clinical measures, including airflow limitation, symptoms and exacerbation frequency, leading to failure to recognise the disease's heterogeneity and/or to provide targeted interventions. COPD continues to have a very large burden of disease with suboptimal outcomes for people with the disease, including frequent hospitalisation with exacerbations, rapid lung function decline, multimorbidity and death from respiratory failure. In light of this, there have been increasing calls for a renewed taxonomy with better characterisation of COPD phenotypes and endotypes. This would allow the unravelling of COPD's complexity and heterogeneity, the implementation of targeted interventions and improved patient outcomes. The treatable traits strategy is a proposed vehicle for the implementation of precision medicine in chronic airway diseases. In this review, in addition to summarising the key knowledge on the heterogeneity of COPD, we refer to the existing evidence pertaining to the treatable traits strategy as applied in COPD and discuss implementation in different settings.

Publication types

  • Review