COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a serious lung condition for which there is currently no cure. While COPD is most commonly diagnosed in smokers, anyone can get it.

Genetics may be partly or wholly to blame when an individual gets diagnosed with COPD. Naturally, one of the first questions a newly diagnosed COPD patient will ask concerns his or her life expectancy. This is a tough question for a doctor to answer. Though the disease does shorten lifespans, the degree to which it does so varies quite a bit from patient to patient.

COPD Diagnosis:

In order to make an accurate estimate of COPD life expectancy in a patient, the severity of the disease will have to be determined through a diagnosis. A doctor will generally inquire about your symptoms, medical history, conduct a physical exam, as well as run a common breathing test called Spirometry. This breathing test involves the doctor having the patient breath into a large hose which is connected to a machine, called a Spirometer. Spirometry measures lung capacity and the extent of airway obstruction. Depending on the results of the test, the disease will be classified as mild, moderate, severe, or very severe. To get the best results from the spirometry test, the patient must not have any current infection of the respiratory tract and should not take any bronchodilators for 24 hours before the test.

COPD Symptoms:

Knowing the symptoms of the various stages of COPD also helps to identify the disease status of a patient.(1) People with mild COPD usually have a chronic cough and produce a small amount of mucous when coughing. Those with moderate COPD can begin to develop mild breathlessness upon exertion. Any existing cough will stay the same or worsen. Severe COPD produces a worsening of the symptoms produced by the moderate version. Performing normal daily activities may become difficult. Finally, those with very severe COPD may be barely able to function at all and the disease becomes life-threatening.

Other signs and symptoms of COPD may include:

  • Tightness in chest
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath during exercise or physical activity
  • Chronic cough
  • Lack of energy
  • Ankles, legs, or feet swelling
  • Cyanosis – blueness of the lips or fingernail beds
  • Frequent respiratory infections (5)

Naturally, the more severe the disease is, the smaller COPD life expectancy becomes for the patient. In general, those diagnosed with mild COPD may be expected to live 10 years or more beyond diagnosis. (2) That number goes down exponentially according to the severity of the disease. Those diagnosed with very severe COPD are in immediate risk of death and must take special care in their activities and management of the disease.

However, this general COPD life expectancy is not set in stone. Even someone with mild COPD can reduce their life expectancy through a number of factors. Being malnourished, having other severe medical conditions that put stress on the body, and having heart disease can all reduce life expectancy for people with mild COPD.(3) Life expectancy is reduced in conjunction with the life expectancy of the patient’s other health conditions.

Of course, the biggest factor in reduction in life expectancy for COPD patients of all levels is smoking. People who are already smokers when they are diagnosed with COPD have a one to two year reduction in life expectancy for each stage of the disease.(2) Non-smokers who are diagnosed are usually better off. Also, smokers who quit smoking after being diagnosed with COPD can often add a few months or even years onto their life expectancy compared to those who do not stop smoking. Therefore, the most important thing a newly diagnosed COPD patient can do if they are a smoker is to immediately stop smoking.

If you are experiencing any COPD signs or symptoms, please consult with a medical professional right away to get a proper diagnosis. (4)


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