After the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease released updated recommendations for grading COPD patients’ level of disease in November of 2016, Imran Iftikhar, MD, tried to incorporate them into his practice, but he encountered problems.
For one thing, the new classification system, which became known as, uncoupled spirometry results from the ABCD treatment algorithm. “I found it wasn’t really helping me in terms of prognostication or COPD management,” said , section chief of pulmonary and critical care at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Atlanta. “Although the purpose of the GOLD classification was not really meant for prognostication, most practicing physicians are frequently asked about prognosis by patients, and I am not sure if the 2017 reclassification really helps with that.”
The GOLD 2017 classification simplified the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease staging that was available from 2011 to 2015 from three variables (spirometry thresholds, exacerbation risk, and dyspnea scale) to two variables (exacerbation risk and dyspnea scale). In the 2017 report, authors of the new guidelines characterized forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) as “a poor predictor of disease status” and proposed that clinicians derive ABCD groups exclusively from patient symptoms and their exacerbations. FEV1 is an “important parameter at the population level” in predicting hospitalization and mortality, the authors wrote, but keeping results separate “acknowledges the limitations of FEV1 in making treatment decisions for individualized patient care and highlights the importance of patient symptoms and exacerbation risks in guiding therapies in COPD.”
According to, a member of the GOLD Science Committee, since release of the 2017 guidelines, “clinicians have indicated that they like the flexibility the system provides in separating spirometry, symptoms, and exacerbation risk as this more accurately reflects the heterogeneity we see in the COPD patient population.” Nevertheless, how this approach influences long-term outcomes remains unclear.
Daniel Ouellette, MD, FCCP, a pulmonologist with the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, described the GOLD 2017 criteria as “a good step forward” but said he wasn’t sure if the optimal or perfect tool exists for categorizing COPD patients’ level of disease.
“I think what we see is an effort to use all of these criteria to help us better treat our patients. I think,” he said in an interview.
“All guidelines need to be modified as further research becomes available. I think that the frontiers of this area are going to be to incorporate new elements such as tobacco history, more emphasis on clinical signs and symptoms, and use of markers other than spirometry, such as eosinophil count, to categorize patients with COPD,” Dr. Ouellette added.