For a COPD patient, being told that they are in the “end stages of COPD” may sound ominous and frightening. But in reality, it’s just a clinical term and says nothing about your individual situation. Medically speaking, there are four different stages of COPD, and it’s not unusual for patients with “end stage” or “stage IV” COPD to live for years, even with severely compromised lung capacity. Nevertheless, the survival rate for those at the end stages of COPD is less than 20 percent.
The staging of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) includes four stages, with the last stage often referred to as “end stage”. Though stage IV or “end stage” may be a clinical term for the last of the four stages in the standard COPD staging guidelines, it certainly doesn’t mean the end stage of your life.
The Four Stages of COPD
The diagnosis and staging of COPD begins with spirometry which uses a machine called a spirometer to measure lung function, specifically how efficiently the lungs empty. The results of the test place patients in one of the four stages of COPD.
Though some factors, such as age, sex, and height, play a role in the staging, it’s important to understand that there are several other factors that will determine how well you are able to live and manage your COPD regardless of your stage.
The following is a breakdown of the stages of COPD to help give you a basic understanding of each stage:
Stage 1 – Mild COPD with only mild airflow limitation. In this stage a patient might not even be aware that there is an abnormality in lung function.
Stage 2 – Moderate COPD with progressing airflow limitation. This is most commonly the stage at which people seek medical help for chronic symptoms, often shortness of breath during exertion or even exacerbation of COPD.
Stage 3 – Severe COPD with airflow limitation that is progressing even further and impacting the patient’s quality of life because of greater shortness of breath and reduced exercise capacity.
Stage 4 – Very Severe COPD with severe airflow limitation and exacerbations that are life-threating. A severely impaired quality of life is also common with this stage.
End Stages of COPD – What Will it Feel Like?
How will you know when you’re getting close to your final days? Besides getting ever more short of breath, you will be less able to do your daily activities, including getting dressed, bathing, walking around the house, and even eating.
Heart problems are often a complication of COPD and so sometimes the heart “gives out” before the respiratory system actually shuts down completely. Other people develop respiratory infections in their weakened airways that their bodies are not strong enough to fight off.
But not everyone will get those complications. In many, the lungs just keep deteriorating. At the very end, “air hunger” is also common, that desperate gasping for breath that doesn’t go away even with rest.
But the good news is, that there is a really effective treatment available these days for air hunger which can make those final days relatively comfortable and less stressful. And if you work with your doctor, this treatment is not difficult to access.