An Overview of COPD Life Expectancy

Medically Reviewed By Nick Villalobos, MD

Many factors impact how chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects life expectancy. You may improve your outlook and quality of life by not smoking and following your doctor’s treatment plan. After a COPD diagnosis, working closely with your doctor to monitor your condition can help you understand how your condition is progressing and — more importantly — how to enjoy a high quality of life.

Read on to learn more about COPD life expectancy, how doctors may evaluate your condition, and what you can do to slow disease progression.

COPD life expectancy

An older man sitting and holding a cigarette
Dusan Stankovic/Getty Images

The actual life expectancy for people with COPD is unknown, but the condition can shorten their lifespans. A major study from 2009 Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source that examined life expectancy for people with COPD showed that smoking played a significant role in how the condition affected people’s lifespans.

People with COPD who smoked significantly reduced life expectancy — nearly 6 years for those in the later stages of the disease plus 3.5 years lost from smoking. Those who had never smoked had a minor decrease in life expectancy, a little over 1 year.

This means the effect of COPD on life expectancy is most extreme in people who smoke.

Coexisting conditions

Other underlying conditions can play a role in a reduced outlook. For example, a 2018 review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source stated that people with COPD who had cardiovascular diseases were at a higher risk of hospitalization and death.

Taking care of your health through proactive steps such as quitting smoking if you smoke and following your doctor’s treatment plan can potentially lessen the effects of COPD on your life expectancy.

COPD tests

There is no way to predict how COPD will affect your life expectancy. However, doctors can monitor COPD progression and assess how the condition may affect your life.

GOLD System

The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) classification system measures your lung function to help determine how COPD is impacting your life.

Spirometry is a lung function test that measures how much air you can forcefully exhale in 1 second. Your spirometry test results allow your doctors to assess how much your airflow has become obstructed by the disease.

The GOLD grades based on spirometry test results are laid out below.

GOLD gradeAirflow obstructionSpirometry test results
1mildequal to or greater than 80% of healthy lung function
2moderate50–79% of healthy lung function
3severe30–49% of healthy lung function
4very severeless than 30% of healthy lung function

In addition, the GOLD system evaluates your symptoms and risk of exacerbations. Based on these characteristics, you can fall into 1 of 4 groups from A–D.

GroupSymptomsRisk of exacerbations
Afewer symptomslow risk
Bmore symptomslow risk
Cfewer symptomshigh risk
Dmore symptomshigh risk

Your spirometry grade and group letter can help doctors evaluate your condition.

BODE Index

The BODE index is another system to determine how COPD may affect your life expectancy. BODE stands for these four measurements:

  • Body mass index (BMI): This considers your weight and height to determine whether you have obesity, overweight, or underweight.
  • Obstruction of airways: This is measured using the same 1-second blowing test used in the GOLD system, along with other pulmonary function tests.
  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing): This relies on your rating of how much shortness of breath affects your day-to-day life.
  • Exercise capacity: This is commonly measured by the 6-minute walk test. Your doctor tracks the distance you can walk on an indoor, flat surface for 6 minutes.

These results provide an approximate survival estimate Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , which can guide you and your doctor toward choosing an intervention, like nutrition counseling or light daily exercise.

Blood tests

In 2017, researchers found Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source that blood tests may help predict COPD outlook and life expectancy. One of COPD’s characteristics is systemic inflammation. Your blood can be analyzed to find different biomarkers of inflammation levels.

Blood tests can also show how much oxygen and carbon dioxide are in your blood, which indicates how well your lungs are working and whether you might benefit from oxygen therapy.

Additional research is needed to determine how blood work may fit into COPD diagnosis and management in the future.

Slowing COPD progression

Though COPD is a progressive condition, there are ways to slow the progression and improve your quality of life.

If you smoke, quitting is one of the most critical steps. Also, avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke and other lung irritants can be beneficial in relieving symptoms.

Doctors may use additional treatment methods like medications, pulmonary rehabilitation, and oxygen therapy to slow COPD progression and prevent flare-ups.


The impact of COPD on life expectancy depends on several factors and may be difficult to predict. Talk with your doctor about ways to evaluate and manage your condition.

Was this helpful?
  1. Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (2020).
  2. Li, C.-L., et al. (2020). Using the BODE index and comorbidities to predict health utilization resources in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  3. Morgan, A. D., et al. (2018). Defining the relationship between COPD and CVD: What are the implications for clinical practice?
  4. Shavelle R. M., et al. (2009). Life expectancy and years of life lost in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Findings from the NHANES III Follow-up Study.
  5. Xiong, W., et al. (2017). Can we predict the prognosis of COPD with a routine blood test?

Medical Reviewer: Nick Villalobos, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Feb 24
View All COPD Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.