Should my patient with COPD and recurrent exacerbations undergo evaluation for antibody deficiency?

Although there are no consensus guidelines on when to evaluate patients with COPD for antibody deficiency, we should at least consider this possibility in patients with recurrent exacerbations despite maximal inhaled therapy (long-acting beta-2 agonist-LABA, long-acting muscarinic antagonist-LAMA and inhaled corticosteroids).1

Couple of retrospective studies of common variable immunodeficiency (CVID) in patients with COPD have reported a prevalence ranging from 2.4% to 4.5%. 1 In another study involving 42 patients thought to have had 2 or more moderate to severe COPD exacerbations per year—often despite maximal inhaled therapy— 29 were diagnosed  with antibody deficiency syndrome, including 20 with specific antibody deficiency (SAD), 8 with CVID and 1 with selective IgA deficiency.2  Although systemic corticosteroids may lower IgG and IgA levels, the majority of the patients in this study were not taking any corticosteroids at the time of their evaluation.

In another study involving patients undergoing lung transplantation, pre-transplant mild hypogammaglobulinemia was more prevalent among those with COPD (15%) compared to other lung conditions (eg, cystic fibrosis), independent of corticosteroid use.3  A favorable impact of immunoglobulin therapy or chronic suppressive antibiotics on reducing recurrent episodes of COPD exacerbation in patients with antibody deficiency has also been reported, supporting the clinical relevance of hypogammaglobulinemia in these patients. 2,4 

Remember that even normal quantitative serum immunoglobulin levels (IgG, IgA, and IgM) do not necessarily rule out antibody deficiency. Measurement of IgG subclasses, as well as more specific antibodies, such as those against pneumococcal polysaccharides may be required for further evaluation.

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Contributed in part by Sydney Montesi, MD, Mass General Hospital, Boston, MA.


  1. Berger M, Geng B, Cameron DW, et al. Primary immune deficiency diseases as unrecognized causes of chronic respiratory disease. Resp Med 2017;132:181-188.
  2. McCullagh BN, Comelias AP, Ballas ZK, et al. Antibody deficiency in patients with frequent exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). PLoS ONE 2017; 12: e0172437.
  3. Yip NH, Lederer DJ, Kawut SM, et al. Immunoglobulin G levels before and after lung transplantation 2006;173:917-21.
  4. Cowan J, Gaudet L, Mulpuru S, et al. A retrospective longitudinal within-subject risk interval analysis of immunoglobulin treatment for recurrent acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. PLoS ONE 2015;10:e0142205.

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Should my patient with COPD and recurrent exacerbations undergo evaluation for antibody deficiency?

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