What to Expect with Stage 1 COPD

Quincy AdamCOPD Lifestyle

Doctor with male patient

The challenge with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is to receive a diagnosis as early as possible. Today, some 12 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with COPD. 1 But it is thought that there are that many again who have not yet been diagnosed.2

COPD is a permanent and progressive disease. It cannot be cured today. But for the best outcome, you or a loved one should be diagnosed during Stage 1 COPD which is considered to be mild. If the symptoms are recognized during Stage 1 COPD, you may:

  • Have less lung damage
  • Enjoy a better quality of life
  • Live longer

If your symptoms are similar to those below, contact your doctor. That’s especially true if you smoke or have been exposed to severe air pollution or chemical or manufacturing fumes.

Symptoms of Stage 1 COPD

Because COPD develops differently in each person, .3 Below, however, are some common symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea): You may notice that you feel out of breath while walking up a hill or a flight of stairs
  • Coughing: You may have a morning cough as you try to expel mucus from your lungs
  • Increased mucus production sometimes occurs during Stage 1 COPD
  • Sleep interruption: If you are coughing or having breathing problems at night, you may be disrupting your
  • Avoidance of physical activity: If you have shortness of breath during physical exertion, you may find that you cut back on activities

Tests to Diagnose Stage 1 COPD

If you are one of the lucky people who recognizes the symptoms early when they are very mild, your doctor will want to schedule a pulmonary function test (PFT). Your PFT results are expressed as percentages of the exhaled breath or forced vital capacity (FVC) of people with normal lung function. The forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) is measured as a percentage of FVC.

In Stage 1 COPD, your FEV1 will equal 80 percent or more of the FVC of people with normal lung function. The test administered is called . It is a painless and non-invasive test. You will breathe into a tube that is attached to the spirometer to determine how much air your lungs can hold and how quickly you can inhale and expel air (breathe).

Medications and Treatments During Stage 1 COPD

There are many approved treatments and medications for COPD. And as COPD progresses, your doctor will probably change your treatment.

Lifestyle Changes

The first step is a critical lifestyle change. . If you are exposed to severe air pollution, chemical fumes, pollen or other respiratory irritants, try to remove or limit exposure.

Breathing Exercises

Your doctor may want to introduce you to breathing exercises and recommend a pulmonary rehabilitation program.


The medications prescribed for Stage 1 COPD are designed to control your COPD and prevent flare-ups (exacerbations) and to rescue and ease your breathing during a flare-up.4 The most common prescriptions are for:

  • Bronchodilators to open or relax your airways. There are both short-acting (rescue) and long-acting (preventative) bronchodilators.
  • Corticosteroids (inhaled, pill and liquid form) to treat and control flare-ups.
  • Diet

Your doctor may also recommend that you consult a dietician to improve your diet.5 If you are overweight, losing the extra pounds can make breathing easier. And if you have other health issues, such as diabetes, your doctor will want to recommend treatment to get any co-existing illness under control.

Physical Exercise

While it may sound counter-intuitive because breathing is more difficult, your doctor will want to encourage you to exercise and remain as physically active as possible.6 This is good for maintaining the strength of your respiratory muscles. Follow your doctor’s recommendations.

Mental Adjustment

Finally, it’s common to become discouraged and depressed after a diagnosis of COPD—even during Stage 1.7 If you feel stress or depression, discuss possible treatment with your healthcare professionals.

It’s rare for most people to be diagnosed with COPD during Stage 1 because symptoms are mild. If you think you may be at risk or if you notice any changes in your normal functions or activity, consult your doctor immediately. COPD can be managed. Work with your healthcare professionals to receive the best possible outcomes, enjoy continued quality of life and a longer life.

1 NIH, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=77, Accessed 7.23.16.

2 NIH. What is COPD? http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/copd/what-is-copd/index.htm. Accessed 7.23.16.

3 Healthline. COPD: Symptoms and Grades. http://www.healthline.com/health/copd/stages#Overview1. Accessed 7.23.16.

WebMD. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) – Medications. http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/tc/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd-medications. Accessed 7.23.16.

5 WebMD. COPD Diet Guidelines: Protein, Calcium, Reducing Sodium, and More. http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/more-essential-dietary-guidelines-for-copd-patients. Accessed 7.23.16.

6 Cleveland Clinic. COPD Exercise & Activity. Guidelineshttp://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_Understanding_COPD/hic_Coping_with_COPD/hic_COPD_Exercise_and_Activity_Guidelines. Accessed 7.23.16.

7 Francesco G Salerno, Mauro Carone. Anxiety and depression in COPD. NCBI. Multidisciplinary Respiratory Med. 2011; 6(4): 212–213. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3463077/. Accessed 7.23.16.