Copd Complications Diagnosis Prognosis

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a condition that is characterized by obstruction of the airways in the lungs. While people who have been diagnosed with COPD will never be cured of the disease, many are able to lessen COPD symptoms through both medication and lifestyle changes. Also, some COPD patients are able to reverse some of the damage that has been done to their airways.

Thus, prognosis for many COPD patients is quite good, especially if the disease is diagnosed in an early stage and if the person quits smoking. In fact, for patients with mild COPD, the prognosis is generally similar to that of smokers who don’t have COPD.

For patients with moderate or severe COPD, prognosis becomes progressively worse. People who are not diagnosed until COPD is at an advanced stage or who continue to smoke after being diagnosed with COPD ultimately experience a gradual worsening of symptoms. Overall, patients who have lost approximately two-thirds of their lung function at the time of diagnosis survive for an average of 10 years.

COPD Symptoms

Common symptoms and progression of COPD is as follows:

  1. The first stages of COPD are often accompanied by mild shortness of breath and occasional coughing.
  2. As COPD progresses, the patient’s cough will produce clear, colorless sputum, usually when the patient first rises from bed in the morning.
  3. A COPD patient may experience morning headaches, which are caused by an insufficient supply of oxygen and carbon dioxide retention during sleep.
  4. Swollen legs often develop in COPD sufferers, possibly be due to cor pulmonale, an increase in the bulk of the heart’s right ventricle that is often caused by improper lung function. Cor pulmonale can lead to heart failure.
  5. As COPD progresses, shortness of breath with exertion becomes more of a problem, especially in patients who continue smoking.

Worsening COPD: Signs and Stages

As COPD advances and signs and symptoms worsen, COPD prognosis worsens. As a patient enters the more advanced COPD stages, he will likely experience the following:

  • Lung Infections: People who have advanced COPD often experience lung infections that often result in shortness of breath, even when the patient is at rest. Severe lung infections may require hospitalization.
  • Pneumothorax: In advanced stages of COPD, fragile areas in the lungs may rupture, allowing air to leak from the lung into the pleural space. Known as pneumothorax, this condition often causes sudden pain and shortness of breath. Pneumothorax requires immediate medical intervention to evacuate air from the pleural space.
  • Severe Cough: A COPD patient’s cough will become more frequent and severe, as greater effort is needed to move air into and out of the lungs.
  • Severe Weight Loss: Severe weight loss strikes about one-third of people with advanced COPD. Weight loss is due, in part, to the breathing problems people with COPD experience as they attempt to eat or drink.

As symptoms worsen, lung and heart function will drastically decline, though the process usually happens gradually. Death occurs when the heart and lungs are no longer able to deliver an adequate amount of oxygen to the organs and tissues of the body.

COPD: Terminal Cases

Patients in the terminal stages of COPD are likely to need significant help with medical care and the activities of daily living. Patients who are terminal may develop flare-ups and may require breathing tubes and mechanical ventilation. This type of ventilation can last until death.

People living with advanced cases of COPD should let their family, friends and physicians know whether or not they want to receive supportive therapy as COPD symptoms worsen. Having a completed advanced directive, preferably by the appointment of a health care proxy, is the best way to assure that the COPD patient’s wishes are carried out.

COPD: Improving Your Prognosis

To improve both quality of life and prognosis, a COPD patient should make certain lifestyle changes, including:

  • Avoid airborne fumes that can worsen COPD symptoms. Fumes from bleach, household cleaners, air pollution and more can worsen COPD and lung function.
  • Exercise to improve respiratory muscle tone, strength and endurance. Though strenuous exercise might not be possible, even light exercise is beneficial.
  • If you are given prescription medication, take it on a regular basis and as prescribed by your doctor.
  • In order to reduce pressure on the lungs, lose weight if you are overweight. Also, eat a healthy diet in order to maintain an optimal weight.
  • Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.


Answers Corp. (2007). cor pulmonale. Retrieved August 27, 2007, from the Web site: pulmonale ?cat=health.

Wise, Robert A. (April 2007). Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Retrieved August 27, 2007, from the Merck Web site: (2007). Prognosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Retrieved August 27, 2007, from the Web site: