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What Are the COPD Stages?

People with severe COPD usually require supplemental oxygen.
Smoking is a major risk factor for COPD.
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  • Written By: Anna T.
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 19 March 2014
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There are four stages of COPD, or chronic obstructed pulmonary disease. The first of the COPD stages is referred to as the mild stage, and many people are not experiencing symptoms at this point other than occasional shortness of breath. Stage two is called the moderate stage of COPD, and people who are in this stage may begin experiencing shortness of breath, along with cough, much more frequently. The third stage of COPD is referred to as the severe stage, and during this stage a person's quality of life may be greatly impacted by the chronic coughing and shortness of breath they are likely experiencing. Very severe COPD is the fourth and last of the COPD stages, and at this point people normally have problems breathing at all times during the day, and their lives may be at risk due to respiratory failure.

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COPD is usually the result of many years of smoking, although there are other things that can cause it, such as air pollution and chronic bronchitis. People who have never smoked but have been exposed to secondhand smoke are also at risk for developing COPD. The majority of people who have COPD often experience problems breathing because their air passageways have become damaged to the point that oxygen and carbon dioxide do not exchange properly inside the lungs because they have lost their elasticity and have become obstructed. Most people do not begin to notice symptoms of COPD until they are roughly 40 years of age or older, but symptoms do occasionally manifest earlier in life.

In addition to difficulty breathing, people with COPD might begin to notice other health problems that may have been brought on or aggravated by their COPD. Some of these other health problems include high blood pressure, heart problems, and frequent respiratory infections. People with COPD are also often depressed because their breathing difficulty might keep them from participating in activities they used to enjoy. These additional problems could occur at any point during the four COPD stages, but may be more likely to occur during the severe and very severe stages.

There is no cure for COPD, but there are certain medicines doctors can prescribe that should help make it easier to deal with it. Treating COPD in the first of the four COPD stages is typically the most successful because much less damage has been done to the lungs at that point. Regular oxygen and steroid inhalers are often prescribed for people with COPD, but most doctors agree that quitting smoking may be the most effective form of treatment. The longer a person smokes, the more damage will be done to his lungs. Even though COPD can't be cured, quitting smoking may greatly improve a person's COPD symptoms.

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