COPD and multimorbidity: recognising and addressing a syndemic occurrence

Most patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have at least one additional, clinically relevant chronic disease. Those with the most severe airflow obstruction will die from respiratory failure, but most patients with COPD die from non-respiratory disorders, particularly cardiovascular diseases and cancer. As many chronic diseases have shared risk factors (eg, ageing, smoking, pollution, inactivity, and poverty), we argue that a shift from the current paradigm in which COPD is considered as a single disease with comorbidities, to one in which COPD is considered as part of a multimorbid state—with co-occurring diseases potentially sharing pathobiological mechanisms—is needed to advance disease prevention, diagnosis, and management. The term syndemics is used to describe the co-occurrence of diseases with shared mechanisms and risk factors, a novel concept that we propose helps to explain the clustering of certain morbidities in patients diagnosed with COPD. A syndemics approach to understanding COPD could have important clinical implications, in which the complex disease presentations in these patients are addressed through proactive diagnosis, assessment of severity, and integrated management of the COPD multimorbid state, with a patient-centred rather than a single-disease approach.

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