Different COPD Stages: How Do You Know It’s Near the End

COPD Stage 1 (Mild) is where you want to catch the disease to be diagnosed. However, due to the lack of symptoms it often goes undiagnosed until a later stage. The main reason COPD Stage 1 symptoms go unnoticed is because according to GOLD guidelines, stage 1 COPD patients still have an FEV1 of 80% or higher. A lot of times, patients can attribute their COPD symptoms to a few different things including:

  • Smoking
  • Old age
  • Getting a cold
  • Allergies

So rather than  going to the doctor to see if anything is wrong, these symptoms get written off as something minor.

Symptoms: COPD Stage 1 only has a couple of different symptoms and they really aren’t too severe than other COPD stages :

  • Minor airflow limitations
  • Increase in mucus production
  • Possible chronic cough
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue sets in faster and easier

COPD Stage 2 (Moderate): Although some people still ignore the warning signs, stage 2 COPD is typically when most patients really start to notice their symptoms and seek medical help. As other symptoms become more prevalent with COPD, chances are your lung function is also declining. According to GOLD guidelines, stage 2 COPD patients have an FEV1 of 50-79%.

Symptoms: Stage 2 COPD symptoms are more severe and persistent than stage 1 symptoms. You may also experience more COPD symptoms, in addition to your original stage 1 symptoms:

  • Increased breathlessness, especially after exertion
  • Airflow limitations worsen
  • Cough severity worsens and becomes more persistent
  • Increased phlegm production
  • Phlegm is harder to expel

The most significant difference between COPD stages 1 and 2  is the symptom severity and how often you experience your symptoms. Symptoms in stage 2 are typically too severe and persistent to ignore.

COPD Stage 3 (Severe) : At stage 3 COPD, symptoms are far too debilitating to ignore any longer. Along with the common COPD symptoms you may begin to experience more advanced symptoms that indicate your COPD is more severe than other COPD stages.  And according to GOLD guidelines, stage 3 COPD patients have an FEV1 of 30-49%. Stage 3 COPD treatment becomes a little more intense than with previous COPD stages.

Symptoms: With stage 3 COPD, the symptoms are too severe to go without medical help. Not only do you experience more advanced symptoms in COPD Stage 3, but your previous symptoms are increasingly more prominent and harder to manage.Along with previous symptoms, here are some of the symptoms you may experience with stage 3 COPD:

  • Increased breathlessness
  • Increase in COPD exacerbations
  • Serious difficulty with any physical activity
  • Even more fatigue
  • Morning headaches
  • Edema (swelling around your feet or ankles)
  • Trouble with your weight (hard to maintain, lose, or gain weight)

Along with a  few added symptoms, the biggest difference between Copd stages 2 and 3 is COPD symptoms is the severity and frequency.At stage 3, your symptoms have become more advanced and they require more attention to ensure your treatment program is working.

COPD Stage 4 (Very Severe) Where do we even begin?

First of all, we see a lot of people, companies, and organizations referring to stage 4 COPD as “end-stage COPD”. Well that is super comforting to hear…Just kidding, that is probably one of the scariest things you can hear someone say when they are talking about your health.No one wants to hear anything referred to as “end-stage” unless you’re running a marathon and you are at the last stage of the race. It’s discouraging, scary, and as far as COPD is concerned, it’s just wrong.There are many people living a high quality life for YEARS with COPD Stage 4. Take a look at the COPD Athlete Russell Winwood… That man does more than 95% of people without COPD. Yes, things get more difficult during stage 4. Yes, you are more prone to getting sick or experiencing an exacerbation. And yes, your FEV1 is below 30%.But none of that means you are at the “end-stage”.It’s actually pretty ironic that stage 4 COPD would be referred to as end-stage COPD when all of the literature out there says a positive attitude can make a big difference in how you feel. Alright, now that we have clarified that misconception about stage 4 COPD we can continue with the blog post.

Symptoms: During COPD Stage 4, you might only develop a few new symptoms. For the most part your symptom severity increases and it gets harder to recover from exacerbations. So, along with the symptoms from the previous three COPD Stages , you may experience the following symptoms when you reach stage 4:

  • FEV1 below 30%
  • Significant airflow obstructions
  • Chest tightness
  • Pain near your chest or abdomen
  • Trouble maintaining a healthy weight
  • Heart problems from low O2 levels
  • Depression
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • More frequent exacerbations

It’s important to remember that everyone is different and you might not experience the same symptoms as the next person. The main indicator for the different COPD stages is your FEV1 test results. source