Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a substantially under-diagnosed disorder, and the diagnosis is usually delayed until the disease is advanced. However, the benefit of early diagnosis is not yet clear, and there are no guidelines in Korea for doing early diagnosis. This review highlights several issues regarding early diagnosis of COPD. On the basis of several lines of evidence, early diagnosis seems quite necessary and beneficial to patients. Early diagnosis can be approached by several methods, but it should be confirmed by quality-controlled spirometry. Compared with its potential benefit, the adverse effects of spirometry or pharmacotherapy appear relatively small. Although it is difficult to evaluate the benefit of early diagnosis by well-designed trials, several lines of evidence suggest that we should try to diagnose and manage patients with COPD at early stages of the disease.
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