How Doctors Estimate COPD Life Expectancy

Quincy AdamAsthma Learn

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One of the questions people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) ask most often is…how long can I live with COPD?

This is a serious concern. No simple, easy answers to this question exist because of the number of variables that your doctor needs to consider when estimating the life expectancy of a COPD patient. There is, however, some good news. You may be able to influence life expectancy with many of the health and lifestyle decisions you make.

Here are several tests and considerations that go into predicting COPD life expectancy.

Pulmonary Function Test–GOLD

The GOLD system, which stands for Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, is perhaps the best-known test for checking progression of the disease by measuring lung function. A non-invasive spirometry test measures the amount of air you can forcefully exhale in one second. Your doctor uses the results to determine the stage of your COPD. The four stages run from Mild to Very Severe COPD and provide your doctor with rough estimates for COPD life expectancy.

BODE Staging Test

More recently, doctors and medical researchers have started to look beyond just lung function to whole body health as a better predictor of survival and COPD life expectancy. The BODE Index stands for:

  • Body Mass—The body mass index (BMI) is a measure of weight adjusted for height. Just as obesity may lead to a bad prognosis, so too can being
  • Airflow Obstruction—Measures pulmonary function using the GOLD test as described above.
  • Dyspnea—This is an assessment of your perception of respiratory symptoms and how much trouble you feel you have breathing—on a scale of 0 to 4.
  • Exercise Capacity—In evaluating the whole body impact of COPD, doctors are using the Six Minute Walk Test to determine how well your body tolerates activity.

COPD Life Expectancy Tables

As COPD research continues, medical scientists are developing tables and mortality models that help them determine life expectancy related to both the disease and complicating factors—most notably smoking. Much of this analysis is based on results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. 1

Overall Health and Complicating Factors

Most notable in determining COPD life expectancy is your overall health. Not only respiratory infections, but also high blood pressure, heart disease, lung cancer, and diabetes may take additional years off your life. And when compounded with COPD, other conditions may significantly shorten your life expectancy.

While seemingly discouraging given the progressive nature of the disease, there is a positive and proactive way to think about your COPD life expectancy. Take responsibility for your overall health. Do everything you can to fight COPD with lifestyle choices that may help you to prevent heart disease, cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure:

  • Receive early diagnosis—If you think you may be at risk of developing COPD or begin to notice any shortness of breath, visit your doctor. The earlier you know that you have COPD, the better you and your doctor can work together to help slow the progression. Slowing COPD isn’t a cure, but it may help increase your COPD life expectancy.
  • Stop smoking—Smoking is the number one cause for COPD.2 The sooner you quit smoking, the better your chances of slowing your COPD progression and not getting other life-threatening diseases.
  • Eat healthy foods—Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid foods that lead to obesity, and as your disease progresses avoid the dangers associated with becoming too thin.
  • Exercise—While exercise may not be directly responsible for increased life expectancy, it may improve overall fitness. And some forms of exercise, including yoga, may help reduce stress.

COPD life expectancy will vary by individual. Any test is a prediction and not always accurate, especially when diagnosis is addressed with significant lifestyle changes. Talk with your doctor about your prognosis, life expectancy and what you may be able to do to improve your longevity.


Robert M Shavelle et al, “Life Expectancy and Years of Life Lost in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease,” International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672796/ (Volume 4, 2009)2 Robert M Shavelle et al, “Life Expectancy and Years of Life Lost in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease,” International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672796/ (Volume 4, 2009)