The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that can range from mild to severe. COPD is also an umbrella term and it includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The symptoms and prognosis depend upon the stage of the disease.
COPD GOLD Guidelines
There are four stages categorized under the COPD GOLD Guidelines. These stages are part of the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) system. The GOLD staging system of classification is the main system used by physicians to describe the severity of COPD.
Stages of COPD are determined through testing. The main test used to determine the stage of COPD is a pulmonary function test (PFT) or spirometry. It measures the amount of air a person can blow out, or exhale forcefully, in one second, called the forced expiratory volume (FEV1).
The GOLD staging system divides emphysema and COPD into four stages. The American Association for Respiratory Care also lists a Stage Zero on their chart (PDF), which means a person is at risk, though their only symptoms are chronic cough with mucus.
Stages of COPD
Stage I is mild COPD. Patients in this stage have a chronic cough and mucus. But they may not even know they have COPD. They may make up the 12 million Americans with undiagnosed COPD.
Stage II is moderate COPD. Patients may be experiencing more and more shortness of breath, even during everyday activities. This is usually the stage where patients see the physician to have their symptoms checked out.
Stage III is severe COPD. Patients are having major difficulty with air flow, and their quality of life is compromised.
Stage IV is very severe COPD. Patients have severe airflow limitations, and their COPD exacerbations are dangerous. Quality of life usually goes down a lot.
Only a physician can accurately diagnose what stage of COPD you have, and help come up with a treatment plan. COPD is a progressive disease, but its symptoms can be treated and the progression can be slowed.