Twenty percent of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients admitted to hospital because of an ‘exacerbation’ will have consolidation visible on a chest X-ray. The presence of consolidation is associated with higher mortality. Imperfect definitions of COPD exacerbation and pneumonia, and incomplete and imperfect diagnostic tests, have resulted in a debate about whether these episodes are best thought of as ‘exacerbation with consolidation’ or ‘pneumonia in a person with COPD’. With the current views that exacerbations are not all identical, and that they can be ‘phenotyped’ to identify episodes with different prognosis and treatment response, perhaps these episodes are best-considered a phenotype of exacerbation. Whatever the terminology, the important clinical message is to recognise that those with consolidation have higher mortality, and likely different responses to treatment.
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