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Improving early-stage diagnosis and management of COPD in primary care.

Postgrad Med. 2014 Jul;126(4):141-54. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2014.07.2792.

Casaburi R1, Duvall K.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a preventable and treatable disease, but it often remains undetected in its mild and moderate forms. Patients frequently remain undiagnosed and untreated until the disease has become severe and debilitating, greatly impacting their quality of life. Primary care physicians (PCPs) are most often the first point of contact, and therefore they are in the best position to identify patients at risk of COPD in the early stages. Consequently, they play a critical role in the management of the disease, particularly smoking cessation. One of the earliest symptoms is activity-related dyspnea and subsequent exercise intolerance, often compensated for by reduction in physical activity. This review addresses the approaches used to identify COPD in the primary care setting, including simple tools such as handheld spirometers and questionnaires. A recent study demonstrated that, compared with usual care, use of the COPD Population Screener questionnaire alone and in combination with the copd-6 handheld spirometer significantly improved the odds of referral of patients with suspected COPD for pulmonary function testing or to a pulmonologist. Identification of patients suspected of having the disease and differentiation of COPD from asthma are important in order that treatment can be initiated in the mild stages to slow or prevent disease progression and reduce the risk of exacerbations. The review also discusses the evidence to date on pharmacologic treatment using short-acting and long-acting anticholinergics and β2-agonists, and nonpharmacologic interventions, such as smoking cessation, pulmonary rehabilitation, and influenza and pneumococcal vaccination in patients with mild and moderate COPD.

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