There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to predicting a person’s lifespan with COPD. Much depends on your age, health, lifestyle and how severe the disease was when you were diagnosed, plus the steps you took to reduce the damage afterwards.

“COPD is a disease with many moving parts,” says Albert A. Rizzo, MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. “It’s not a death sentence in any way. Many people with COPD will live into their 70s, 80s, or 90s.”

But that’s more likely, he says, if your case is mild and you don’t have any other health problems, such as heart disease or diabetes. Some people are more likely to die due to complications such as pneumonia or respiratory failure.

COPD Severity and Life Expectancy

Doctors use a rating system called the Global Initiative on Obstructive Lung Disease (or GOLD) system to determine how severe your COPD is. It is based on how much air you can forcefully exhale in 1 second after blowing into a plastic tube called a spirometer. You may also hear this referred to as a forced expiratory volume test (FEV1).

The classifications are based on results for an adult of the same age, gender, and ethnic group, but without COPD. So if your airflow was 80% of someone who doesn’t have COPD, you would be GOLD or Stage 1. There are four stages:

In general, the higher your number on the GOLD system, the more likely you are to have problems with or even die from COPD.

Symptoms and severity

Do you have trouble breathing? Have you been hospitalized for COPD flare-ups, which doctors call exacerbations? Doctors look at your symptoms and place you in one of four categories, AD. The most serious would be GOLD D (high symptom severity and high risk of exacerbation).

Smoking plays a role

Smoking is the leading cause of COPD. One study found a small drop in life expectancy (about 1 year) for people with COPD who had never smoked. But there was a much bigger discount for current and former smokers. For men aged 65 who smoke, the drop in life expectancy is:

  • Phase 1: 0.3 years
  • Phase 2: 2.2 years
  • Stage 3: 5.8 years
  • Stage 4: 5.8 years

This is in addition to the 3.5 years of life that all smokers, whether they have COPD or not, lose the habit.

The same study also found that women who smoked at the time and were in stage 2 lost about 5 years of their life in stage 3 and 9 years of their life in stage 4.

The BODE index

Another system doctors use to measure life expectancy with COPD is the BODE index, which stands for:

  • Body weight: Are you obese or overweight?
  • Airflow obstruction: How much air you can forcefully exhale from your lungs in 1 second (the FEV1 test).
  • dyspnea: How hard is it to breathe?
  • Excercise capacity: How far can you walk in 6 minutes?

The higher your BODE score, the higher your risk of death from COPD. This test is considered more accurate than the FEV1 score alone.

Can medication help?

There are currently no drugs that cure COPD. “We are still looking for drugs that can slow the disease process itself and reverse inflammation in the airways,” says Rizzo. But there are bronchodilators (medications usually taken through inhalers) that can open up your airways and improve shortness of breath.

Corticosteroids can help control flare-ups. That’s important because more COPD hospitalizations are associated with a higher risk of death.

If you are constantly deprived of oxygen, your doctor may prescribe supplemental oxygen. You get a device that you can take with you anywhere to help you breathe.

And you must have access to care in the first place. Rizzo says more studies are looking at COPD in terms of gender, age, and socioeconomic status. Someone with COPD who does not have access to health care and insurance is more likely to have complications and premature death, even if their diagnosis is the same as someone with a higher income level.

Early diagnosis can make a difference

An early diagnosis can also significantly improve your life expectancy. “Probably half of people with COPD had the disease for several years before they were diagnosed,” says Rizzo. “They didn’t bring it to their doctor’s attention because they thought the cough and shortness of breath were related to being overweight, being out of shape and still smoking.”

Also, doctors need to correctly diagnose COPD by ordering the right tests, he says.

Rizzo also points to ongoing studies to find out why some people are more likely to get COPD than others. A study started this year by the National Institutes of Health and supported by the American Lung Association will look at lung function in 25- to 35-year-olds (lung function peaks in the mid-20s) and find out what changes over time. course of their lives. “We want to note when a person develops findings of COPD, what may have led to it, and what we can learn from that to improve survival,” he says.

Make lifestyle changes

While there is no cure for COPD, there are many lifestyle changes you can make that will slow disease progression and increase your chances of living a longer life. You can:

Once you’ve been diagnosed with COPD, follow your doctor’s advice to quit smoking, exercise, and take all prescribed medications. “And most importantly, stay active,” says Rizzo. “Walking is the best exercise for the lungs, so walk regularly.”


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