Over 16 million Americans knowingly have COPD, meaning they have been diagnosed with COPD and are currently treating their COPD. The harsh reality for all of these people is the COPD has no cure, this progressive disease will stick with you, and if gone untreated take years off of your life. That being said, treating COPD has been heavily researched, and following a treatment plan for your personal diagnosis will increase your life expectancy.
This blog is an informative read for anyone who has COPD no matter how severe or mild. It's also a great read for you if you are perfectly healthy and are a caregiver for a COPD patient, or you are just curious about your respiratory health, this blog is a great read for people who are curious about how COPD affects life expectancy.
Treating COPD to Increase Life Expectancy
The only way someone with COPD can add years to their life is by using oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy is when you need to use a supplemental oxygen device like a portable oxygen concentrator in order to maintain a healthy oxygen level. Once your oxygen levels are stable, you can begin to treat COPD in other ways that will slow down the progression of the disease and ease the severity of the symptoms.
The symptoms of COPD you you should be treating can be any of the following:
- Mood swings
- Excess production of mucus
If COPD goes untreated, the consequences are extreme, and if you are reading this blog it is likely that you already know you have COPD, or you are in the process of being diagnosed with COPD. If your case is the latter, getting tested for COPD will be the first step towards treating your symptoms. The longer you wait to get tested, the more time goes by where the progression of your disease worsens at a faster pace due to inadequate treatment.
Life expectancy is directly related to how you treat COPD, and because this disease does not have a cure, proper treatment is the only fight against time you have when it comes to living with COPD.
You can treat your symptoms above by following your doctor's recommendations and this will likely include some or all of the following treatments:
- Exercise, try yoga or tai chi for respiratory patients
- Eat foods that promote respiratory health
- Join pulmonary rehabilitation courses
- Follow your oxygen prescription if you have one
- Use you COPD medications as prescribed
- Avoid lung irritants such as allergens, pollution, and smoke
- Stop smoking cigarettes or inhaling secondhand smoke
Even with treatment COPD symptoms will arise in your daily life, you can learn to deal with symptoms by trying some of the following methods for easing discomfort:
- Breathing techniques can be used to open your airway and increase lung strength, this will help with breathlessness
- Meditation particle can help your breathing when you experience a COPD exacerbation, it can also help easy anxiety and stressed caused by breathlessness
- Coughing and clearing techniques can be used daily to removed excess mucus from you airways which can help ease your coughing and breathlessness
First and most importantly, being diagnosed with COPD is a good thing, and this might sound crazy, but you cannot go back in time and change the course of time in which you developed COPD, so being diagnosed is the next best thing. And here is why: Once you have been diagnosed with COPD, your life begins again, you start to take care of the symptoms that have been impacting your life, you start to ease the pain and discomfort by utilizing tools like medications, oxygen therapy devices, and pulmonary rehabilitation courses.
People with COPD are are more likely to experience the following complications compared to someone without it:
- Being limited in physical activity
- Difficulty walking or climbing stairs
- Be unable to work
- Need special equipment like Inogen brand oxygen devices
- Engages less socially
- Have increased confusion or memory loss
- Have more emergency room visits or overnight hospital stays
- Have other chronic diseases like arthritis, congestive heart failure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, or asthma
- Have COPD induced depression or other mental or emotional conditions
There’s No way to Predict the Exact Life Expectancy
The obvious question is, “How long can I live with COPD?” but there is no way to predict the exact life expectancy despite the stage of COPD you are in. That being said, it is known that having this progressive lung disease can shorten your lifespan.
But how much this disease shortens your lifespan depends on your overall health, how you treat the disease on the daily, and whether you have other diseases such as heart disease or diabetes.
What is the GOLD System
COPD effects over 16 million Americans, and research about this disease has a long history and is ongoing. There have been numerous studies that assess the health of someone with COPD all of which have contributed to the GOLD system.
The most current assessment is to take a spirometry lung function test results and compare that to a person’s symptoms. The result can help predict life expectancy but more accurately guide treatment choices for those with COPD.
The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) is one of the most used systems of classifying COPD and its effect on your health.
GOLD is made up of an international team of lung health experts who look over current research and produce updated guidelines for doctors to use for testing and treating people with COPD.
Recently, doctors started to use the term “grades” rather than “stages” to assess the degree of severity of the disease. Grading is a way to measure the severity of a person's COPD. It uses the forced expiratory volume (FEV1) to determine the amount of oxygen a person can actively exhale from their lungs in one second, this gives the doctor a rather accurate description of the person’s lung health and allows them to categorize the severity of their COPD.
Based on your FEV1 score, you receive a GOLD grade as follows:
GOLD 1: FEV1 of 80 percent predicted or more
GOLD 2: FEV1 of 50 to 79 percent predicted
GOLD 3: FEV1 of 30 to 49 percent predicted
GOLD 4: FEV1 of less than 30 percent predicted
The second part of the GOLD system is to compare the FEV1 score to the patient's symptoms. Doctors will analyze your symptoms of dyspnea, or difficulty breathing, and degree and amount of acute exacerbations, which are flare-ups that may require hospitalization.
How these aspects of health compare will categorize people in one of four groups: A, B, C, or D.
Grouping COPD Severity, Examples:
Here are some examples of how COPD patients are put into groups.
- Patients X experiences no exacerbations or maybe one and they did not require hospitalization in the past year. Their breathing assessment or their FEV1 score was GOLD 1 and the amount they only experience a few symptoms they have would be in group A.
- Patient Y has had one exacerbation that required hospitalization, or possibly two exacerbations that did or didn’t require hospital admission in the past year. They also scored GOLD 3 and had several breathing symptoms that would be in group C.
Under the most current GOLD guidelines, someone who scored a GOLD Grade 4, Group D, is someone that has the most serious classification of COPD. And they’ll technically have a shorter life expectancy than someone with a label of GOLD Grade 1, Group A.
What is the BODE index
There are other measures that can be taken to determine the severity of COPD by using more than just the FEV1, it is called the BODE index.
BODE stands for:
B - body mass
O - airflow obstruction
E - exercise capacity
This is a measure of the overall way COPD affects your life. Keep in mind that while the BODE index is used by some doctors, its value or meaning behind the results may be less accurate than what it was once considered due to the amount we know about the disease now.
By looking at you body mass index (BMI), a measurement based on your on height and weight, it can be known if you are overweight or obese, or too thin. Someone who is very thin and has COPD has a lower outlook.
This refers to the FEV1, which is the same test as in the GOLD system that you read in the section above.
Having trouble breathing is something that can be noted in order to assume the outlook for someone with COPD.
Being more tolerant of exercise and having the ability to be physically active suggest you have a better outlook. It’s often measured by a test called the “6-minute walk test.”
Mortality Rates in COPD Patients
COPD is a serious disease and similarly to cancer, the predicted life expectancy is based largely on the severity or stage of the disease which for COPD can be estimated using the GOLD system or BODE.
One of the best ways to explain the mortality rate in COPD is to give an example:
In study that was in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a 65-year-old man with COPD who currently smokes tobacco has the following reductions in life expectancy, depending on stage of COPD:
GOLD 1: 0.3 years
GOLD 2: 2.2 years
GOLD 3 or 4: 5.8 years
For this same group, if the 65 year-old man were to continue smoking they would be reducing thier life expectancy by an additional 3.5 years, rather than those who never smoked and didn’t have lung disease.
For former smokers, the reduction in life expectancy from COPD is:
GOLD 2: 1.4 years
GOLD 3 or 4: 5.6 years
This is just one article that was published and while there is a lot of research on this subject, the mortality rate for COPD patients is still just an estimate.
Continue Treating COPD for the Best Outlook
What’s the goal of these methods to predict life expectancy? The more you are able to treat your disease the slower you will progress to a higher grade of COPD.
The first step towards slowing down the progression of COPD is to stop smoking if you smoke. Also, avoid secondhand smoke or other irritants such as air pollution, dust, or chemicals.
Maintaining a healthy weight and eating small, frequent meals can help your breathing immensely. Learning how to improve breathing with exercises such as pursed lip breathing will also help.
Pulmonary rehabilitation program is another great way to learn about your disease as well as how you can implement exercise into your life safely and effectively, all while connecting with other people that can relate to your health condition.
One of the very best things you can do for you lung health is to exercise, and while physical activity may be challenging it really helps your lungs and the rest of your body.
The bottomline is that, the more you can do to improve your overall health, the longer and fuller your life can be.