Emphysema Stages: What Your Numbers Mean

The differences in emphysema stages can mean a lot.

If you suffer from a chronic lung disease such as emphysema, the initial diagnosis can be devastating. Not only does it imply a dramatic change in one’s lifestyle, but it can also mean a gradual progression of symptoms.

Although unfortunately, emphysema as with other forms of chronic lung disease have no known cure.

With your health in mind, the Lung Institute is here to give you the information you need on Emphysema Stages: What Your Numbers Mean.

What is Emphysema?

Contrary to popular belief, emphysema is not a disease in and of itself, but rather a descriptor (along with chronic bronchitis) of the breakdown of lung tissue within chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Symptoms of chronic lung disease include dyspnea (or shortness of breath), coughing and a significant decline in quality of life.

The most common causes of emphysema include a history of smoking, alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, air pollution, old age and heredity. Emphysema is usually found and determined through a variety of tests including x-ray, CT scan, PFTs and arterial blood gas tests.

What Are Emphysema Stages?

When diagnosed with emphysema, the severity of the disease’s progression can be measured in several emphysema stages, using two different testing methods: the GOLD Emphysema Staging System and the BODE Emphysema Staging System.

On one hand, the GOLD system uses the FEV1 metric to determine its staging, while on the other, the BODE System is a bit more comprehensive, working to stage emphysema as well as quality of life within a patient.

The Gold System can be broken down into four stages:

  • Stage I– Mild emphysema (a normal life expectancy is common)
  • Stage II– Moderate Emphysema (5+ life expectancy with treatment)
  • Stage III– Severe Emphysema (5+ life expectancy with treatment)
  • Stage IV*- Very Severe Emphysema (Time is limited even with treatment)

*Typically those with Stage IV emphysema are on supplemental oxygen*

When it comes to measuring quality of life, the BODE System is preferred which collects metrics such as body mass index, airflow limitation (PFTs), breathlessness and exercise capacity through a six-minute walk test.

What Do Emphysema Stages Mean for Me?

In any illness, every individual is different regarding the expression of their symptoms. Genetics, weight, diet and exercise can be large influencers on quality of life and life expectancy.

This means that regardless of which of the emphysema stages you may find yourself, the capacity to change your life—and lifespan—through personal lifestyle changes is entirely within your hands. If you’re currently smoking and don’t know where to start, start with quitting.

Moving Forward…

Although an emphysema diagnosis can seem insurmountable, the first step to living a longer life is finding a treatment that addresses the disease head-on. 

Changing one’s diet and consistently exercising are among the best lifestyle changes one can do aside from quitting smoking. For people with lung disease, a change in quality of life could mean the difference between struggling to walk to the mailbox and being able to riding a bike.