The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) has uncoupled spirometry results from the ABCD treatment algorithm; this move marks the organization’s first announcing of major COPD guidance since 2011 .

Spirometry now stands apart from GOLD’s ABCD symptom/exacerbation risk score with its own grade, with possibilities ranging from 1 to 4. A forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) of 80% or more of the predicted value rates a 1; the score degrades to 4 with an FEV1 below 30%.

GOLD had been moving toward symptoms and exacerbations to guide treatment for several years before formalizing the break from spirometry in its Nov. 16 report.

“In previous GOLD documents, recommendations for management of COPD were based solely on spirometric category. However, there is considerable evidence that the level of FEV1 is a poor descriptor of disease status, and, for this reason, the management of stable COPD based on … disease impact (determined mainly by symptom burden and activity limitation) and future risk of disease progression (especially of exacerbations) is recommended. … ABCD groups are now proposed to be derived exclusively from patient symptoms and their history of exacerbations,” GOLD said.

The clear focus on symptoms and exacerbations is “the major accomplishment” of the new report, which has been downloaded more than 45,000 times since it’s release, a testament to GOLD’s importance to clinicians trying to help COPD patients.

“We are trying to do a better job of personalizing treatment,” said GOLD board member Gerard Criner , MD, chair and professor of thoracic medicine and surgery at Temple University in Philadelphia.

The change “allows you to plan treatment based on symptoms [even] if you don’t have immediate access to spirometry, and then refine treatment once you have spirometry results. It also allows you to escalate and deescalate treatment because you are not boxed into a letter grade group” forced by spirometry. “You can also take a better look at pharmacologic versus nonpharmacologic therapy” when deciding what to do, he said.

In short, “we think it gives more freedom” to manage patients based on what seems best, Dr. Criner said.

GOLD included an example of how the new assessment can help. “Consider two patients,” it said, both with an FEV1 less than 30% and a COPD Assessment Test result of 18, but one with no exacerbations in the past year and the other with three. Both would have scored a GOLD D in the old system, and been treated similarly.

“However, with the new proposed scheme, the subject with three exacerbations … would be labeled GOLD [spirometry] grade 4, group D,” and their treatment would focus on exacerbations. The no-exacerbation patient would be classified as GOLD grade 4, group B. Treatment would focus on symptoms. Drugs are still an option, but also lung volume reduction and lung transplant, GOLD said. Spirometry, in other words, is less important than how the patient is doing.

The group incorporated “every major study up to the first week of November” in the new report, Dr. Criner said, so there’s more to consider.

For instance, it’s clear now that patients benefit from home oxygen if they are severely hypoxemic while sitting on the couch watching TV, but not if they desaturate only when they get up and walk around, or come into the clinic to exercise. “We did not” know that in 2011, he said.

GOLD also recommended pulmonary rehabilitation and palliative care when indicated, as well as ongoing evaluation to make sure patients are able to use their inhalers, a major problem in COPD.

GOLD said that group A patients – those with few symptoms and low exacerbation risk – should be offered a bronchodilator. Initial therapy for group B – more symptoms, but low exacerbation risk – and group C – higher exacerbation risk but fewer symptoms – “should consist of a single long-acting bronchodilator. There is no evidence to recommend one class of long-acting bronchodilator over another.”

For group D – highly symptomatic with frequent exacerbations – “we recommend starting therapy with a [long-acting beta-2 agonist]/[long-acting antimuscarinic antagonist] combination,” the group said.

There was no industry involvement in GOLD’s report, but numerous authors and board members had pharmaceutical company ties, and GOLD’s treatment advice relies on drug company studies. Dr. Criner reported personal payments from Holaria, and research funding and other nonpersonal payments from AstraZeneca, Boehringer-Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson and Johnson, and others.


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