COPD exacerbation: Lost in translation
Department of Pneumonology, Medical School, Democritus University of Thrace, Alexandroupolis, Greece
BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2009, 9:6 doi:10.1186/1471-2466-9-6Published: 29 January 2009
The introduction and acceptance of a standard definition for exacerbations of COPD can be helpful in prompt diagnosis and management of these events. The latest GOLD executive committee recognised this necessity and it has now included a definition of exacerbation in the guidelines for COPD which is an important step forward in the management of the disease. This definition is pragmatic and compromises the different approaches for exacerbation. However, the inclusion of the "healthcare utilisation" approach (".. may warrant a change in regular medication") in the definition may introduce in the diagnosis of exacerbation factors related to the access to health care services which may not be related to the underlying pathophysiologal process which characterizes exacerbations. It should be also noted that the aetiology of COPD exacerbations has not yet been included in the current definition. In this respect, the definition does not acknowledge the fact that many patients with COPD may suffer from additional conditions (i.e. congestive cardiac failure or pulmonary embolism) that can masquerade as exacerbations but they should not be considered as causes of them. The authors therefore suggest that an inclusion of the etiologic factors of COPD exacerbations in the definition. Moreover, COPD exacerbations are characterized by increased airway and systemic inflammation and significant deterioration in lung fuction. These fundamental aspects should be accounted in diagnosis/definition of exacerbations. This could be done by the introduction of a "laboratory" marker in the diagnosis of these acute events. The authors acknowledge that the use of a test or a biomarker in the diagnosis of exacerbations meets certain difficulties related to performing lung function tests or to sampling during exacerbations. However, the introduction of a test that reflects airway or systemic inflammation in the diagnosis of exacerbations might be another step forward in the management of COPD.