Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a progressive illness that advances in stages. The four stages of COPD are mild, moderate, severe and very severe. While there is no cure for this disease, treatment options can be highly effective in slowing the progression toward the final stages of COPD. The patientís staging is diagnosed via lung functioning testing. After that, itís up to the patient and his or her doctor to develop an ideal course of treatment using the various available options.
In COPD Aware, we delve into the symptoms, treatments and quality of life experienced by patients in each stage of COPD. Our goal is to educate readers about their help and support options at the various COPD stages; we also strive to provide incites and knowledge about what to expect at each of the four stages.
"My husband passed away from COPD in July 2006, and Dr. Brown used my experiences as a caregiver during the chapters about the disease's final stages. Living with COPD wasn't easy for my husband, but it wasn't easy on me, either. Of course, care needs to be focussed on the patient, but caregivers need to learn not to neglect their own health, either. There are help and support options for patients and care providers, and everyone benefits when those providing care receive treatment as well."
Marian T., Columbus, OH
Stages of COPD
Listed below are general descriptions of the four stages of COPD. More detailed information on each stage can be found within the pages of COPD Aware.
- Stage I: Also known as mild COPD, people in the first stage of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder still have at least 80 percent of normal lung functioning capabilities. Mild COPD may have very few symptoms; in some cases, patients arenít even aware of having a problem.
- Stage II: Referred to as moderate COPD, people with second-stage COPD often experience chronic coughing and difficulty breathing following physical exertion. Lung functioning at this stage of COPD is between 50 and 80 percent. Symptoms are noticeable at this stage of the disease.
- Stage III: Known as severe COPD, this stage includes significant symptoms including fatigue and shortness of breath. Fatigue becomes a factor because the third stage of COPD results in the body getting less oxygen that needed. With lung functioning between 30 and 50 percent of normal, this stage of COPD is when patients begin to experience flare-ups of symptoms, also known as COPD exacerbation.
- Stage IV: In the final stage of COPD, also known as very severe COPD, patients have less than 30 percent of normal lung functionality. Symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath eventually become nonstop at this phase of the disease, requiring patients to rely on constant oxygen therapy and other forms of treatment to survive.
Final Stages of COPD
The final stages of COPD are extremely difficult for patients, their families and their caregivers. After progressing through the first three stages of COPD, patients in the last stages of COPD must constantly cope with unpleasant and frustrating symptoms. Bouts of COPD exacerbation require trips to the emergency room or care from in-home nurses. Even small amounts of physical exertion can cause shortness of breath, requiring in-home care for completing regular household tasks.
A person in the final stage of COPD will eventually die from the condition. The heart and the lungs become unable to function properly because of a lack of oxygen, resulting in severe infections, organ failures, heart failure and other catastrophic conditions. There are several palliative treatment options for patients in the final stage of COPD, and some of these treatments can bring improvement to the patientís quality of life.
In COPD Aware, you can read interviews from patients, doctors and caregivers about coping with and preparing for the final stages of COPD. This is a serious illness and a leading cause of death in the United States, but the symptoms of COPD can be controlled for several years before the final stages take hold.