COPD Life Expectancy
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious lung disease that causes permanent damage to the lungs. The condition is progressive and currently does not have a cure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 140,000 people in the U.S. die of COPD every year.
Once someone hears there is no cure for COPD, they may wonder what their COPD life expectancy is. But there is no clear-cut answer. Several factors play a role in COPD life expectancy.
How Does COPD Affect Longevity, and to What Extent?
In general, COPD may affect longevity. But the reduction in life expectancy may vary to only a slight reduction to several years.
People with COPD have damage to the air sacs in their lungs. The damage causes increased mucus, inflammation, and narrowing of the airways. Eventually, it is difficult to get oxygen into the lungs and carbon dioxide out. Impaired gas exchange can lead to respiratory failure.
Usually, respiratory failure does not happen all at once. The frequency and severity of COPD flare-ups increases. Over time, the damage to the lungs speeds up. Additionally, problems breathing may place stress on the heart or other organs, leading to additional health problems.
Although there is no definitive life expectancy with COPD, research has indicated an average reduction in life expectancy depending on the stage of COPD and whether someone continues to smoke.
Research in the International Journal of Obstructive Pulmonary Disease found at age 65 the reduction of life expectancy in men with stage 1 COPD who were current smokers was 0.3 years. But men who were diagnosed with stage 4 COPD had a 5.8-year reduction in life expectancy.
What is the BODE Index?
Another tool to determine life expectancy is the BODE Index. It is not meant to be an exact indication of life expectancy. Instead, it provides a general prediction. The BODE index estimates mortality based on the following:
- Body mass index (BMI): BMI is the measurement of body fat based on height and weight. A BMI higher than normal may indicate a person is overweight. A BMI lower than normal may indicate a person is underweight. Having a low BMI with COPD is associated with a poorer prognosis.
- Airflow obstruction: Airway obstruction is measured by performing a forced expiratory volume (FEV1). An FEV1 is the amount of air a person can blow out in one second. Typically, the lower the FEV1, the worse the life expectancy.
- Severity of dyspnea: Dyspnea involves shortness of breath. Increased dyspnea is an indicator of decreased life expectancy.
- Exercise tolerance: Exercise tolerance is measured by completing a six-minute walk test. The fewer feet walked in six minutes, the worse the score.
Breathing exercises can help you cope with episodes of breathlessness. Practicing them outside of breathing distress is also useful for when you need them.
The BODE Index is scored by assigning points to the results in each category based on how they affect quality of life and functioning. The chance someone with COPD has of living four years based on their score includes:
- A score of 0 to 2 points indicates an 80% chance of living at least four years.
- A score of 3 to 4 points indicates a 67% chance of living at least four years.
- A score of 5 to 6 points indicates a 57% chance of living at least four years.
- A score of 7 to10 points indicates an 18% chance of living at least four years.
Factors That Affect COPD Life Expectancy
It is important to remember that everyone has their own course with COPD, and assessing life expectancy is an estimate at best. A few factors have been identified that appear to affect life expectancy, including the following:
- Stage of COPD: Similar to other diseases, the more advanced stage of COPD a person has, the more it decreases their life expectancy.
- Continued smoking: Research has indicated that continuing to smoke decreases life span. Smoking continues to damage the lungs, and COPD is likely to progress faster.
- Comorbidities: It is common for people with COPD to also develop other health problems, such as heart failure or kidney problems. Having additional health conditions can reduce life expectancy.
How Can People With COPD Live Longer?
There are things someone with COPD can do to increase their quality of life and possibly live longer.
One of the most essential things someone with COPD can do to decrease symptoms is to stop smoking. Although stopping smoking will not reverse lung damage, it can slow the progression of the disease, which may improve life expectancy.
Follow Your COPD Treatment Plan
A COPD treatment plan may include taking certain types of respiratory medications and reducing triggers. Each time a COPD flare-up occurs, it may be more difficult to return to your baseline functioning. Following your treatment plan can help prevent frequent flare-ups.
Exercising when you are already short of breath may not be on your list of priorities. But getting regular exercise can improve muscle strength, lung function, and overall health. After getting the green light from your doctor, try to do some form of light cardio about three to five days a week.
Decrease the Risk of Infections
Take steps to reduce your risk of respiratory infections, which can become life-threatening for people with COPD. Get your flu shot every year, wash your hands frequently, and stay away from people who are sick.