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How Fast Does COPD Progress?

Learn About the Stages of COPD and How to Delay Its Progression

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Dayton Respiratory Center

Nov 23 2022

4 mins read

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a progressive disorder marked by inflammation and mucus build-up in the airways and lungs.

While there's no cure, you can manage the condition and maximize life expectancy by making positive lifestyle changes. But first, you need to understand how COPD worsens over time.

Let's look into the different stages of COPD, how quickly the disease progresses, and how to manage your condition effectively.

What Are the Stages of COPD?

There are two ways to group the stages of COPD: GOLD grades and ABCD groups.


The GOLD system has four COPD stages (or grades) based on a person's FEV1 (forced expiratory volume) — a measurement of how much air you can forcefully exhale in one second.

The GOLD stages include the following:

  • Grade 1: Mild COPD (FEV1 at least 80%)
  • Grade 2: Moderate COPD (FEV1 between 50-80% )
  • Grade 3: Severe COPD (FEV1 between 20-50%)
  • Grade 4: Very severe COPD (FEV1 below 30%)


The ABCD system classifies COPD by the number of COPD exacerbations and/or hospitalizations over the past year.

The ABCD groups include the following:

  • Group A: You have 0-1 exacerbations and no hospitalizations per year, and your CAT (COPD Assessment Test) score is less than 10
  • Group B: You have 0-1 exacerbations and no hospitalizations per year, and your CAT score is 10 or higher
  • Group C: You have 2+ exacerbations per year (or 1 hospitalization), and your CAT score is less than 10
  • Group D: You have 2+ exacerbations per year (or 1 hospitalization), and your CAT score is 10 or higher

Why Is Grouping COPD Stages Important?

COPD affects everyone differently. You need an individualized treatment approach for your particular needs.

Grading helps your doctor determine the best treatment plan for your symptoms and lung function — allowing you to manage your condition most effectively.

How Fast Does COPD Progress From One Stage to Another?

While COPD is a progressive disease, it's impossible to predict how quickly a person moves from one stage to another.

Some people live with mild or moderate COPD for years, while others very quickly progress to the end stage of COPD.

What Determines the Speed of COPD Progression?

Each case of COPD is different, but some factors that can speed up its progression include:

  • Cigarette smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Frequent exposure to chemicals, dust, or fumes
  • Genetics
  • A history of childhood respiratory infections

COPD is a chronic disease, not a terminal illness. If detected early, it can be effectively managed. However, lung damage is irreversible, so failure to stay on top of the condition can shorten your life span.

How Do I Calculate COPD Life Expectancy?

Life expectancy with COPD depends on the disease's severity and a person's age, health, and lifestyle.

Though there are no hard-and-fast rules, healthcare professionals use the BODE index to calculate the average lifespan of COPD patients.

BODE includes the following:

  • Body mass index (BMI) — doctor uses height and weight to assess whether a patient is underweight
  • Obstruction of airflow — doctor determines lung function by measuring the FEV1 value
  • Dyspnea (or breathlessness) — patient fills out the mMRC questionnaire, which assesses the difficulty of breathing
  • Exercise capacity — doctor determines how much physical activity a patient can handle by measuring how far they can walk in 6 minutes

Your total BODE score — which ranges from 0 to 10 — includes the scores of each element added together. The lower the score, the higher your life expectancy.

Note: The BODE score isn't always the most accurate measurement of COPD life expectancy. Each individual's COPD progression is unique.

How Can I Improve My Life Expectancy with COPD?

There is no known cure for COPD, but proper treatments and lifestyle changes can slow its progression and improve your quality of life.

Here are some healthy steps you can take:

  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid exposure to air pollution, chemicals, dust, or fumes
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get vaccinated against pneumonia and the flu

You can also schedule regular check-ups and lung function tests to monitor your COPD. This helps your doctor see whether your condition has progressed so they can change your treatment plan as necessary.

Ultimately, making healthy choices and working alongside your provider gives you the best chance at managing your COPD.


COPD progresses as your lung function deteriorates over time. The damage caused to your lungs is irreversible, so it's important to catch the disease in its early stages.

Talk to your doctor if you experience a chronic cough or any other symptoms of COPD.

Although no one can predict COPD progression and life expectancy perfectly, early detection and healthy lifestyle habits improve your chances of long-term COPD management.

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