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Managing COPD exacerbations in primary care
  1. Anna Moore1,
  2. Hannah Hylton1,
  3. Alex Long1,
  4. Irem Patel23
  1. 1 Respiratory Medicine, Barts and The London NHS Trust, London, London, UK
  2. 2 Respiratory Medicine, King's College London Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine, London, UK
  3. 3 King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Irem Patel, Respiratory Medicine, King's College London Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine, London, UK; irempatel{at}


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a common but underdiagnosed lung condition that is frequently managed inappropriately. It impacts poorest communities most, where health inequalities are greatest. New acute symptoms of breathlessness, cough, sputum production and wheeze should prompt clinical suspicion of underlying COPD in someone who is a current or ex-smoker (or has exposure to other risk factors) and be followed by referral for quality-assured spirometry once recovered. Management of COPD exacerbations in primary care includes use of short-acting bronchodilators if mild, and antibiotics and a short course of oral prednisolone if moderate/severe. Hospital at home schemes are safe and effective and should be considered for some patients exacerbating in the community; these are increasingly supported by remote monitoring (‘virtual wards’). New or worsening hypoxia is an indication for hospital admission and therefore oxygen saturation monitoring is an important part of exacerbation management; clinicians should be aware of patient safety alerts around use of pulse oximeters. Exacerbations drive poor health status and lung function decline and therefore asking about exacerbation frequency at planned reviews and taking action to reduce these is an important part of long-term COPD care. An exacerbation is an opportunity to ensure that fundamentals of good care are addressed. Patients should be supported to understand and act on exacerbations through a supported self-management plan; prompt treatment is beneficial but should be balanced by careful antibiotic and corticosteroid stewardship. COPD rescue packs on repeat prescription are not recommended.

  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive
  • Primary Health Care
  • Therapeutics

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  • Competing interests None declared. Refer to the online supplementary files to view the ICMJE form(s).

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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