A person using an inhaler.

The Relationship Between COPD and Life Expectancy

How Long Can You Live With COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term that refers to progressive lung diseases that make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs due to the narrowing of the airways. Since COPD is a serious condition, it is impossible not to wonder how long a person can live with it. This article focuses on life expectancy in people with COPD. Read on to learn more.

What is COPD?

Estimates show that about 30 million people in the United States have COPD. This common, preventable, and treatable disease is indicated by persistent airflow obstruction linked with inflammation in the airways and the lung in response to noxious particles or gases. COPD is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide.

COPD is not a single disease but a term that refers to different conditions. The most common types of COPD include:

  • Chronic bronchitis: inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs. The condition is characterized by daily cough and production of mucus.
  • Emphysema: a condition wherein alveoli at the end of bronchioles (the end of the smallest air passages) in the lungs are destroyed due to exposure to cigarette smoke and other gases or particulate matter.

Life Expectancy With COPD

It would be impossible to pinpoint a single life expectancy for patients with COPD. Several factors are involved in determining a person’s life expectancy with this disease. Several systems are used to evaluate how long a person can live with COPD, but keep in mind these are estimates. These systems are known as GOLD and BODE.


The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) is the most commonly used system for classifying COPD. The system is based on the forced expiratory volume (FEV) percentage. The FEV1 test measures how much air a patient can expel from the lungs in one second. The results show as a percentage of airflow the doctors would predict for that person based on their weight, race, and height. In other words, GOLD indicates the severity of COPD.

GOLD has four grades indicating a different level of severity:

  • GOLD 1: FEV1 lower or equal to 80% predicted
  • GOLD 2: FEV1 50-80% predicted
  • GOLD 3: FEV1 30-50% predicted
  • GOLD 4: FEV1 lower than 30% predicted

Patients with higher grades (e.g., three or four) have a lower life expectancy than those with a lower grade.


Here BODE stands for body mass index (BMI), airflow obstruction, dyspnea (breathlessness), and exercise capacity. This test includes the FEV1 calculation, as well as:

  • BMI
  • 6-minute walk test distance
  • Level of breathing difficulty

The scores of this test range from 0 to 10, with the latter being the most severe impairment in lung function.

Estimated Life Expectancy

Studies show that COPD is linked with a modest reduction in life expectancy for people who have never smoked and a large reduction for former and current smokers. At the age of 65, the reductions in male life expectancy for GOLD grades was 0.3 years (first grade), 2.2 years (second grade), and 5.8 years (third and fourth grades) in one study. These reductions are in addition to 3.5 years lost due to smoking. In other words, current and former smokers with COPD have a lower life expectancy.

Basically, life expectancy depends on the severity of disease and smoking status. The five-year life expectancy for patients with COPD ranges from 40% to 70%. That means that 40 to 70 out of 100 patients will be alive after five years of their COPD diagnosis.

Treatment of COPD

A milder form of COPD usually requires smoking cessation only. For advanced stages, it is important to control symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. The most common treatment approaches include:

  • Quitting smoking.
  • Medications such as bronchodilators usually in the form of inhalers, inhaled steroids, combination inhalers (bronchodilators + inhaled steroids), oral steroids, antibiotics, among others. These medications work to prevent worsening of COPD and improve breathing.
  • Lung therapies for moderate-to-severe COPD. These include oxygen therapy and a pulmonary rehabilitation program.
  • Surgery is recommended only when other treatment options fail. Surgical procedures may include lung volume reduction surgery, lung transplant, and bullectomy.

Patients with COPD, or those who have symptoms of this condition, should see their doctor regularly. Upon diagnosis, the doctor will develop a treatment plan. For starters, it may include lifestyle modifications only. The doctor will update the treatment plan and recommend other forms of treatment whenever necessary. Even if you are feeling well, you should still see the doctor. The healthcare professional will monitor your COPD symptoms, general health, and lung function. If you notice changes in COPD symptoms, call your doctor.

Lifestyle Tips

Certain lifestyle modifications can help manage symptoms of COPD and thereby improve your quality of life. These include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat right and exercise
  • Eat small, frequent meals
  • Prioritize a well-balanced diet
  • Eat from a smaller plate
  • Consume fruits and vegetables
  • Try to get 30 minutes of exercise three times a week
  • Retrain your breathing to decrease shortness of breath. One option is diaphragmatic breathing, where you inhale slowly and deeply through the nose. While breathing in, you need to push your stomach out.
  • Clear your airways by drinking enough water or through controlled cough and with a humidifier

In Conclusion

COPD is a serious disease that affects millions of people in the U.S. and across the globe. So, when answering "how long can you live with COPD?", there is no specific life expectancy. A patient’s lifespan depends on the severity of the condition and whether they are a smoker, former smoker, or nonsmoker. Having a treatment plan with the doctor is a great way to slow the progression of the disease.

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