There is increasing focus on understanding the nature of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) during the earlier stages. Mild COPD (Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease [GOLD] stage 1 or the now-withdrawn GOLD stage 0) represents an early stage of COPD that may progress to more severe disease. This review summarises the disease burden of patients with mild COPD and discusses the evidence for treatment intervention in this subgroup. Overall, patients with mild COPD suffer a substantial disease burden that includes persistent or potentially debilitating symptoms, increased risk of exacerbations, increased healthcare utilisation, reduced exercise tolerance and physical activity, and a higher rate of lung function decline versus controls. However, the evidence for treatment efficacy in these patients is limited due to their frequent exclusion from clinical trials. Careful assessment of disease burden and the rate of disease progression in individual patients, rather than a reliance on spirometry data, may identify patients who could benefit from earlier treatment intervention.