COPD Stages

What are COPD stages?

Healthcare providers who treat people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) use a set of four different stages to describe the progression of a COPD patient’s disease. For COPD, “disease progression” means the amount of permanent damage that has already happened inside the person’s lungs. It also describes how severe the lung damage is. This lung damage is what causes patients with COPD to have difficulty breathing well.

To identify a person’s COPD stage, healthcare providers use special breathing tests called “spirometry.” These tests measure how well the person’s lungs are working. Using the results of these tests, the healthcare provider can tell how well the person is able to breathe, and then use that information to calculate the person’s COPD stage.

What are the four stages of COPD1?

After a person takes these simple tests to measure his or her breathing ability, the healthcare provider can tell which stage of COPD the person has. There are four possible stages of COPD:

  • Stage I – Mild COPD
  • Stage II – Moderate COPD
  • Stage III – Severe COPD
  • Stage IV – Very Severe COPD

Stage I – Mild COPD means that the lungs already have a small amount of damage, but the disease has not progressed very far yet. Some people with Stage I COPD may not even notice that their lungs are not working as well. Other people might have shortness of breath during exercise or other kinds of physical activity. In Stage II – Moderate COPD, the disease has developed further and the person starts to experience symptoms more often than they do in Stage I. In Stages III and IV, Severe and Very Severe COPD, a person usually has symptoms that are much more serious and happen more frequently.

For more information and details about each stage of COPD: Explaining the COPD Stages

Why is it important to find out your COPD stage?

When a person is first diagnosed with COPD, finding out the stage is the key first step in managing the condition.

First of all, the COPD stage gives a person’s healthcare provider the important information needed to provide guidance about how to treat the disease. The right kind of treatment allows COPD patients to control their symptoms in the most successful way. The different stages of COPD require very different types of treatment strategies. A COPD patient’s personal treatment plan includes advice about lifestyle changes, medications, or breathing therapy options that are the best for that stage of the disease.

The second reason that finding out a patient’s COPD stage is so important is that it makes it possible to keep track of the disease’s progression. By knowing a patient’s current COPD stage at the beginning of treatment, the healthcare provider can find out whether the patient’s treatment plan has been effective. Testing the patient’s COPD stage again after he or she has been treated for a while can show how well the treatment is working.

If the COPD stage has stayed the same between the two tests, it means that the patient’s disease has not gotten worse and the treatment plan is helping. In some cases, the next test might show that the patient’s COPD stage has gotten worse - for example, it might have moved from Stage I to Stage II. If that happens, it is a sign that the patient’s healthcare provider may need to change the treatment plan to manage the condition better.

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Written by: Anna Nicholson | Last reviewed: July 2015.