What Is End Stage COPD?

Find Out Where End Stage COPD Falls In Terms of COPD Staging

Elderly in hospital bed
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End stage COPD. What comes to mind when you hear this term? Many people associate the term "end stage" with imminent death or grave disability that's leading up to death. But as we explore the term further, you may be surprised to learn that this isn't always the case.

What Is End Stage COPD?

By definition, "end stage" refers to "the last phase in the course of a progressive disease."

Some people think the term is carelessly applied to a patient when healthcare providers feel that they've done all they can do, medically, for a patient.

Given that the four-year survival rate of many Stage IV COPD patients is less than 20 percent, the reality is that end stage COPD is a real term and a real problem.

But where exactly does end stage COPD fall in terms of COPD staging?

Understanding the Stages of COPD

According to the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), there are four stages of COPD:

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

Each stage is defined according to spirometry measurement of FEV1.

In terms of GOLD guidelines, end stage COPD refers to being in the final stages of the disease: Stage IV or Very Severe COPD. But are the majority of people diagnosed with end stage COPD gravely ill? 

On the contrary, there are many people in Stage IV who take excellent care of themselves. They eat right, exercise religiously and take their medications. They are still able to function relatively well with few limitations.

On the other hand, there are also many people at this stage who are very sick.

Which group you fall into has to do with a number of factors that influence COPD life expectancy, including your smoking history, your level of dyspnea (shortness of breath), fitness level, and nutritional status.

Treatment for End-Stage COPD

Although surgical intervention may be an option, it's likely to benefit only a small number of COPD patients.

For some, as the severity of their disease increases, the focus of treatment begins to shift away from prolonging life to providing palliative care to relieve COPD symptoms.

If you're facing a diagnosis of end stage COPD, your doctor may prescribe the following treatment:

  • Nutritional counseling - This may be suggested because malnutrition is a common complication in end stage COPD and increases the risk of death.
  • Psychological and social support - These are an important aspect of treatment because many patients do not discuss end-of-life issues with their doctors.

How to Postpone End State COPD

If your disease has not yet advanced, there are several things that you can incorporate into your lifestyle to maintain optimal health. Here we'll discuss just a few.

Quit smoking. Smoking cessation remains the single most important, cost-effective way to prevent and treat COPD.

If your goal is to feel better, slow the progression of the disease and live longer, then you have no choice but to say goodbye to cigarettes once and for all.

Exercise. Besides quitting smoking, if you are going to make one lifestyle change after a diagnosis of COPD that will have the greatest impact on your life, you should consider a daily exercise program.

Eat healthy. Good nutrition should be the foundation from which to start your journey after a COPD diagnosis, or even if you've been diagnosed for years and are wanting to make positive lifestyle changes to help you feel better. It's an essential part of any disease management program and gives those with COPD the vital energy they need to breathe and fight infection.

Stay positive. Someone once said that life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent what you do about it. Staying positive in the midst of a potentially life-shattering illness is difficult, but it's not impossible. It's all about developing some new coping mechanisms that will fit easily into your lifestyle.

Understanding end stage COPD and what you can do to prevent yourself from getting there starts with taking a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror and asking yourself one specific question: "Am I worth it?" The person who looks back at you will hopefully smile back and answer "Yes."


Ambrosino N, Gherardi M, Carpenè N. End stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Pneumonol Alergol Pol. 2009;77(2):173-9.

Ambrosino N, Simonds A. The clinical management in extremely severe COPD. Respir Med. 2007 Aug;101(8):1613-24. Epub 2007 Mar 26.

Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease. Global Strategy for Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of COPD. December 2009.

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