When patients, particularly cigarette smokers, present with chronic respiratory symptoms, consider chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Since a diagnosis of COPD can impact significantly on the likelihood of a smoker quitting smoking, early diagnosis is important.
- Patients presenting with chronic bronchitis provide an opportunity for GPs to identify smokers or ex-smokers who are at risk of developing COPD.
- Demonstrating airflow obstruction is central to the diagnosis of COPD; spirometry is the only simple, accurate method of measuring airflow obstruction in these patients.
- Smoking is the most important risk factor for developing COPD, and smoking cessation is the only effective means of slowing the accelerated decline in FEV1 caused by the disease.
- Knowledge of a diagnosis of COPD has been shown to influence patients to stop smoking; thus early diagnosis is important.
- For symptomatic patients, short and long acting bronchodilators can be useful; other treatment options for moderate to severe COPD and persistent symptoms include inhaled corticosteroids and pulmonary rehabilitation.