It is not easy to live with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is due to the constant struggle to breathe, the pressure that seems to be always pushing down on your chest, and the dread you feel every
day from all the anxiety that comes with having the disease. It feels as if there is no possible way to get relief from the problem
Millions of Americans have to cope with COPD everyday of their lives and according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, millions more probably have it but are unaware of it. They may associate their constant struggle for breathing with other things. They may conclude that it is environmental, the flu, or even asthma but the reality is that COPD is very serious and cannot be dismissed so easily. Once diagnosed with COPD, it naturally leaves many to wonder, how long can they live with this disease.
While there is no way to accurately predict the COPD life expectancy we do understand that it is a progressive lung disease and as such, it will have an impact on how long we live. To determine how long you could live with the condition it is necessary to consider several other health related factors that may influence your life.
The Gold System:
To determine COPD life expectancy, researchers have developed The Gold System to evaluate how the disease impacts your overall health. Your life expectancy is calculated by taking lung function test results and combining the score with the symptoms the patient may be experiencing. Then the results are compared to a particular scale to determine your expected life span.
The system was developed by a group called The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, an international group of experts in lung health. The group comes together periodically to create and update guidelines for medical professionals to use in their care for people with COPD and other diseases that can affect the lungs.
How the Gold System is Used:
The Gold System is divided into two parts. The first part is used primarily to determine which “stage” a person with COPD has. This is done by using the forced expiratory volume or the FEV1 test to determine just how much air a person can actually exhale in a single second. Depending on the amount of air exhaled the stage can be determined to be in one of four different categories. Gold 1 means that your FEV1 is at 80% or higher, Gold 2 means your FEV1 is between 50 and 79%, Gold 3 has a score between 30 and 49%, and Gold 4 is the most severe with a score of below 30%.
The second part of the assessment looks at the symptoms you might be experiencing. Patients with COPD often have difficulty breathing and occasional flare-ups that can be serious enough to require hospitalization for a certain period of time. There is a long list of criteria that doctors refer to in order to rate the symptoms in regards to severity. These criteria divide these symptoms into four different groups, which are simply labeled as A, B, C, and D.
Any person that has not been hospitalized for conditions related to COPD within the last year would be in either Group A or Group B. If their FEV1 score puts them in Gold 1 they would most likely be put in Group A but if their FEV1 score was lower they might find themselves in Group B.
Anyone who has had to be hospitalized or has had two or more flare-ups that did not require hospitalization would be placed in either Group C or Group D. Under the Gold guidelines, anyone labeled Gold 4 Group D would be classified as having the most serious form of COPD and would have the shortest COPD life expectancy.
The BODE Index:
Another method for determining COPD life expectancy for patients is a bit more involved as it uses more than the FEV1 test to evaluate the patient’s condition. The acronym BODE stands for all the indicators a doctor must look at to determine the patient’s overall health condition: body mass, airflow obstruction, dyspnea, and exercise capacity.
In this test, a careful look at a person’s life determines COPD life expectancy. For example, the body mass index (BMI) takes into account whether weight is also affecting the COPD. The airflow obstruction is the result of the FEV1 score, and dyspnea looks at how hard it is to breath. There have been several studies that show that those who struggle the most to get air will have a much lower survival rate than those who do not. Finally, a close look at their ability to do strenuous exercise is factored in. This score is usually determined by monitoring the patient while taking a 6-minute walk test and then recording the results.
Some might wonder if all of these testing are truly necessary. There is no cure for COPD so why do you need to know? However, there is a positive reason for it. While you may not be able to cure COPD, the information can be beneficial in that you can take steps to keep your disease from progressing to a higher stage. One can slow down the progression by changing their lifestyle habits. Stopping smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke or any other irritants to the lungs can actually prolong your life expectancy.
If you find that weight is affecting your score then you can change your eating habits, improve your nutrition intake to slow down the progression of the disease. In the long run, it will improve your health in other ways as well.
The test results are also useful for the medical community as a whole. An accumulation of these results gives the doctors and researchers focusing on COPD, a better picture of the disease and may help them discover more effective ways of treating it. This is why many are now able to participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program where they are taught about different breathing techniques, nutrition, and exercise programs that can improve their health and give them a fighting chance.
There is no doubt that dealing with COPD can be a lifelong struggle but learning your COPD life expectancy actually arms you with the tools you need to fight it. As we learn more and more about the condition and more people participate in this type of testing, it just may be possible to one day win the battle against COPD in the future.