COPD is often diagnosed late in real-life clinical practice. As a result, most patients could have lost 50% of their lung function at the time of diagnosis. Despite recent advances achieved in its medical treatment, the disease still carries significant morbidities at this late stage. Hence, it is crucial to find ways to identify COPD as early as possible. Notwithstanding, early COPD is often assumed to be interchangeable with mild COPD. This assumption is not often correct as we now understand that not every COPD patient started their journey of decline from normal peak lung function.
Recent discoveries in cellular and molecular medicine have allowed us to gain better insights into the pathological lung changes in early COPD before it becomes clinically evident. With continuous development in this field, it is not unforeseeable that we may one day identify early changes of COPD in susceptible individuals and thus enable us to halt its progression with some novel agents, alongside with smoking cessation.