Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Hospitalization due to acute exacerbations of COPD (AECOPD) is a relevant health problem both for its impact on disease outcomes and on health system resources. Severe AECOPD causing acute respiratory failure (ARF) often requires admission to an intensive care unit (ICU) with endotracheal intubation and invasive mechanical ventilation. AECOPD also acts as comorbidity in critically ill patients; this condition is associated with poorer prognoses. The prevalence reported in the literature on ICU admission rates ranges from 2 to 19% for AECOPD requiring hospitalization, with an in-hospital mortality rate of 20–40% and a re-hospitalization rate for a new severe event being 18% of the AECOPD cases admitted to ICUs. The prevalence of AECOPD in ICUs is not properly known due to an underestimation of COPD diagnoses and COPD misclassifications in administrative data. Non-invasive ventilation in acute and chronic respiratory failure may prevent AECOPD, reducing ICU admissions and disease mortality, especially when associated with a life-threating episode of hypercapnic ARF. In this review, we report on up to date evidence from the literature, showing how improving the knowledge and management of AECOPD is still a current research issue and clinical need.
Keywords: COPD exacerbations; acute respiratory failure; intensive care unit; COPD epidemiology; COPD hospitalization