COPD Life Expectancy - What You Need To Know

Nolan Semanchik
Knowzo Contributor
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COPD Life Expectancy - What You Need To Know


COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a serious lung condition for which there is no cure. While the disease is most commonly diagnosed in smokers, anyone can get it. Some people who have never smoked before develop the disease for no apparent reason. Genetics may be partly or wholly to blame in these cases. Whether someone is a smoker or not, a diagnosis of COPD is devastating. 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.

In order to make an accurate estimate of COPD life expectancy in a patient, the severity of the disease will have to be determined. This determination is made through the use of a test called a spirometry. 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.

Knowing the symptoms of the various stages of COPD also helps to identify the disease status of a patient. 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.

Naturally, the more severe the disease is, the smaller COPD life expectancy becomes for the patient. In general, those with mild COPD may be expected to live 10 years or more beyond diagnosis. That number goes down exponentially according to the severity of the disease. Those 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. 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. Non-smokers who are diagnosed fare much better. 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. It can add valuable time onto their life.
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