Dispatch from HM19: COPD updates


Session presenter

Cathy Grossman MD, FCCP, CHSE

Session title

COPD Updates 2019

Session summary

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third most common cause of death in the United States and accounts for close to 730,000 admissions and 120,000 deaths per year.1 That correlates to one death every 4 minutes. By 2020, the adjusted cost of COPD in the United States was projected to be approximately $50 billion.2

Dr. Venkatrao Medarametla, medical director, Intermediate Care Unit, Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, Mass., and assistant professor of medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Dr. Venkatrao Medarametla

Every COPD exacerbation is associated with economic, social, and mortality burdens. The probability of survival decreases to 20% by the end of 5 years in patients with frequent readmissions, compared with patients with no acute exacerbations of COPD.3 The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) recently released its 2019 report and gave fresh guidance on medication changes to consider in patients who have had a COPD exacerbation.

At HM19, Cathy Grossman, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, discussed the updates. She explained that most of the patients who are treated by hospitalists are GOLD group C or group D, and stressed the importance of involving the pulmonology team in the care of these patients.

Dr. Grossman explained that GOLD 2019 recommended using eosinophil counts to predict the effect of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), added to regular maintenance bronchodilator treatment, in preventing future exacerbations. These effects are observed to be incrementally increasing at higher eosinophil counts. For patients who are taking a long-acting beta2-agonist or muscarinic antagonist (LABA or LAMA), and have a high eosinophil count (at least 300 cells/mcL, or at least 100 cells/mcL plus a history of several exacerbations), one could consider adding an ICS.4 For patients who don’t fulfill these criteria, one could try a LABA plus a LAMA. However, one has to be cautious as some of these patients get intravenous dexamethasone by EMS and admission labs may not show eosinophils.

Dr. Nageshwar Jonnalagadda, Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, Mass.

Dr. Nageshwar Jonnalagadda

A caveat to using ICS is that, in some of these of the patients, ICS may lead to bacterial overgrowth and therefore more pneumonias, and that may be contributing to frequent admissions of these patients. In such patients, discontinuation might be a viable option. The guidelines recommend starting GOLD group C and D patients with LAMA or LAMA/LABA combination inhalers, and ICS if they have high eosinophil counts. If patients are already on triple therapy, one could add roflumilast5 or a macrolide.

The effectiveness of noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation (NIV) in COPD patients with prolonged hypercapnia after ventilatory support for acute respiratory failure remains unclear, although there is some data to support the use of home NIV in patients with COPD and obstructive sleep apnea, both with and without hypercapnia. Dr. Grossman mentioned that there are still many unanswered questions, like identifying the right patient, right time, and right settings, and more studies are underway.

Dr. Grossman concluded that bread-and-butter topics like smoking cessation counseling, inhaler instruction, and referral to pulmonary rehab are still the most important tools to decrease COPD exacerbations.

Dr. Jonnalagadda is a physician advisor, and Dr. Medarametla is medical director, of hospital medicine at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass.


1. Guarascio AJ et al. The clinical and economic burden of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the USA. Clinicoecon Outcomes Res. 2013 Jun 17;5:235-45.

2. Morbidity & Mortality: 2012 Chart Book on Cardiovascular, Lung, and Blood Disease. National Institutes of Health and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

3. Soler-Cataluña JJ et al. Severe acute exacerbations and mortality in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Thorax. 2005;60:925-31.

4. Cheng SL. Blood eosinophils and inhaled corticosteroids in patients with COPD: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2018 Sept 6;13:2775-84.

5. FJ Martinez et al. Effect of roflumilast on exacerbations in patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease uncontrolled by combination therapy (REACT): A multicenter, randomized, controlled trial. Lancet. 2015;385(9971):857-66.

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