The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a progressive condition that is characterized by respiratory difficulties. Oftentimes, COPD results from a persistent cycle of emphysema and chronic bronchitis — emphysema causes the alveoli (air sacs in the lungs) to lose elasticity, and chronic bronchitis causes the bronchioles (air passages) to become inflamed, leading to increased mucus production. COPD most frequently results from smoking cigarettes, but can also be caused by the inhalation of pollutants or by an alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.
As of this time, there is no cure for COPD, and because it is a progressive disease, its symptoms tend to worsen over time. Many physicians track the progression of COPD with the GOLD staging system, which uses the following four stages based on a patient’s FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in one second) score:
- Stage 1 (very mild) — If a patient can forcefully exhale at least 80 percent of his or her normal lung capacity in one second, the GOLD system assigns a Stage 1 COPD progression. Patients who are ranked at this stage may notice coughing, slight airflow limitations or an increase in mucus production, but generally do not experience any other symptoms.
- Stage 2 (moderate) — Patients who can forcefully exhale between 50 and 80 percent of their normal lung capacity in one second are ranked as having Stage 2 COPD progression. Many people begin experiencing recognizable COPD symptoms at this stage, including decreased airflow, breathlessness (particularly during physical activity), coughing, wheezing and phlegm/sputum production.
- Stage 3 (severe) — Stage 3 COPD progression includes those patients who can forcefully exhale between 30 and 50 percent of their normal lung capacity in one second. Patients who are at this stage of COPD progression generally experience an increase in symptoms, particularly breathlessness and exhaustion, and may require intermittent hospitalization.
- Stage 4 (very severe or “end stage”) — Stage 4 COPD progression includes those patients who can forcefully exhale less than 30 percent of their normal lung capacity in one second, as well as those who would otherwise be ranked at Stage 3 but also have low blood oxygen levels. Patients at this stage experience increased fatigue and breathlessness, and COPD flare-ups at this stage can sometimes be life-threatening.
Because individuals progress through these stages at different rates, it is not possible to accurately predict a COPD patient’s life expectancy. By tracking the progression of the condition using the above stages, however, physicians can continually adjust a patient’s COPD treatment plan to reflect that patient’s changing needs.
If you have been diagnosed with COPD, please call the Lung Institute today at (800) 729-3065 to speak with one of our caring team members. Even if you believe you are in the early stages of COPD progression, we encourage you to seek treatment as soon as possible.