Elderly man looking concerned
Many factors determine life expectancy, such as the age of diagnosis, lifestyle choices, and other underlying health issues.

Can You Die from COPD?

COPD is a chronic respiratory disease that is currently not curable. According to the American Lung Association, COPD is the third leading cause of death for adults in the United States.

So, can you die from COPD? While it is possible to die from COPD, there are several factors that play a role in a person’s life expectancy.

How Fast Does COPD Progress?

It’s difficult to say how fast COPD progresses. Although it is a progressive disease, which means it gradually gets worse over time, every person is different. Some people with COPD may progress fast and go from an early stage of the disease to end-stage within a few years. In other instances, a person with COPD may progress slowly and stay at the same stage for many years.

Although it is not a definite predictor of life expectancy, the BODE Index is a system researchers developed for estimating prognosis. The acronym stands for the following:

B: Body Mass Index

Body mass index (BMI) measures the percentage of body fat in relation to weight and height. Having a low BMI with COPD is linked to worse outcomes.


Airflow obstruction, which is measured by a forced expiratory volume (FEV1), is a predictor of life expectancy. Usually, the lower the FEV1, the worse the prognosis.


Severity of dyspnea, which is shortness of breath, is also an indicator of life expectancy.


Exercise tolerance, which is measured by a 6-minute walk test, also helps doctors predict prognosis.

Each category in the BODE index is assigned one to three points, according to the level of severity the tests indicate. The total score of all four categories indicates what percentage likelihood the individual with COPD has of living for at least four more years.

  • A score of zero to two points indicates 80 percent
  • A score of three to four points indicates 67 percent
  • A score of five to six points indicates 57 percent
  • A score of seven to 10 points indicates 18 percent

How Long Can You Live With COPD?

There is no set time frame for how long a person can live with COPD. It’s also important to understand that statistics that list an average life expectancy do not mean everyone with COPD can only expect to live a certain number of years. The stats are only averages. Many factors determine life expectancy, such as the age of diagnosis, lifestyle choices, and other underlying health issues. Many people exceed their life expectancy.

Although individual life expectancy rates vary, the stage of the disease typically affects how long a person can live with COPD. As would be expected, the higher the stage, the shorter the life expectancy.

In addition to the BODE index, the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) system was also developed to determine the stage of COPD and measure life expectancy. COPD severity is measured using a forced expiratory volume (FEV1), which is one of the breathing tests performed during a pulmonary function test.

An FEV1 measures the volume of air a person can blow out of their lungs in one second. As COPD progresses, airflow out of the lungs becomes increasingly limited. The test helps doctors determine the stage of the disease.

So many variables affect how long a person will live with COPD, which makes it difficult to provide an accurate number of years at each stage. Typically, life expectancy decreases with every stage of the disease. Below is more information about each stage of COPD.

How Long Can You Live with Stage 1 COPD?

People with stage 1 COPD have an FEV1 of 80 percent or higher of normal. Their disease is considered mild. If the disease remains at this stage, life expectancy is considered relatively normal..

How Long Can You Live with Stage 2 COPD?

People with stage 2 COPD are considered to have a moderate stage of the disease. Their FEV1 is between 50 and 80 percent of normal. People with this stage disease tend to notice symptoms, such as shortness of breath and wheezing, on a regular basis. Life expectancy is likely to decrease for people with stage 2 COPD.

How Long Can You Live with Stage 3 COPD?

Stage 3 COPD is considered severe. FEV1 is between 30 and 50 percent of normal. Symptoms are likely to interfere with everyday activities. Life expectancy may decrease significantly with stage 3 disease.

How Long Can You Live with Stage 4 COPD?

Stage 4 COPD is the most severe, and it’s considered end-stage. FEV1 is below 30 percent of normal. Life expectancy is greatly decreased in people with this stage of disease.

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Can You Reverse COPD?

COPD is not reservible. The damage to the lung tissue is permanent. But it is possible to slow the progression of the disease and extend life expectancy.

How to Slow the Progression of COPD

Slowing the speed at which COPD progresses is key to improving quality of life and life expectancy. There are several things a person with COPD can do to slow the progression of the condition including:

Avoid Smoking and Exposure to Secondhand Smoke

Quitting smoking is essential to slow the progression of COPD. Secondhand smoke can also increase COPD symptoms and should be avoided.


Exercise can build endurance and improve cardiovascular health. A stronger heart and muscles help the body work more efficiently and may slow down progression.

Decrease Your Risk of Infections

Lung infections can lead to a flare-up of COPD symptoms, which can decrease life expectancy. Take steps to reduce your risk of infections, such as frequent hand-washing, avoiding people that are sick, and getting your flu shot every year.

Take Medications as Prescribed

Your pulmonologist will prescribe various medications and treatments to ease symptoms. Take medications as prescribed to decrease your risk of increased symptoms. Medication won’t cure COPD. But it may help keep symptoms at bay.

Participate in a Pulmonary Rehabilitation Class

Attending a pulmonary rehabilitation class will provide you with effective ways of managing COPD. Participants learn how to take medications correctly, do breathing exercises, and make healthy lifestyle choices to slow the progression of their condition.

Make Good Lifestyle Choices

Staying as healthy as possible may also slow the progression of COPD. Eat a well-balanced diet and try to keep your weight in the healthy range. Get plenty of rest, which helps keep your immune system strong.