• COPD ;
  • Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease;
  • guidelines;
  • level of evidence


Rationale, aims and objectives

The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) guidelines are well-known international clinical practice guidelines for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The objective of this study was to examine how treatment recommendations and the quality of supporting evidence for pharmacologic management of stable COPD have evolved since the initial guidance issued in 2001.


Recommendations in the 2001 and 2011 GOLD guidelines, along with the evidence grades (i.e. A, B, C, D), were identified and abstracted. We determined the distribution and evolution of recommendations across levels of evidence and treatment categories over time.


There were 35 and 54 recommendations identified in the 2001 and 2011 guidelines, respectively. Twenty-six recommendations were common to the 2001 and 2011 guidelines, with eight having the same evidence grade in both versions and three having a grade change (one upgraded and two downgraded). Twenty-eight new recommendations were added in 2011. Bronchodilators, glucocorticosteroids, and phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors are the classes of pharmacologic treatment with the most prominent changes regarding emerging evidence and the number of recommendations. Approximately 45% of the graded recommendations were supported by well-designed randomized controlled trials, i.e. grade A.


The GOLD guideline recommendations have changed considerably over the past 11 years, which reflects a dynamic evidence base and perhaps a change in the way guideline developers view the evidence to inform recommendations. Given the large number of recommendations with lower grade levels, there continues to be substantial opportunity to inform gaps in the evidence base with high-quality studies.