In general, there are 5 categorised stages of COPD. Many doctors use these stages as a rule of thumb to measure the progression of the disease.
The stages can be broken down into the following:
- Stage 0: At risk – This stage is often bordering on a COPD diagnosis. A person may not officially have the disease, but is showing distinguishable symptoms which can develop into COPD. Treatment for the condition may not yet be necessary, but a doctor will raise a red flag and advise a few changes to your lifestyle. If you are a smoker, you will be strongly encouraged to stop immediately. Diet and exercise regimes will also be discussed as steps you can take to improve your overall well-being. Your doctor will make recommendations to minimise as much risk of further damage as possible. Any additional damage caused cannot be undone. Prevention is the best course of action.
- Stage 1: Mild – The presence of symptoms may be so mild a person may not even regard them as all that serious at this stage. You may have a chronic or persistent cough, with or without excess mucus (sputum) production. Mucus that does come up with a chronic cough may be white, greenish or yellowish in colour, and of varying consistencies. A doctor may make a COPD diagnosis and start treatment with a bronchodilator (as and when needed) at this stage to try and curb further damage.
- Stage 2: Moderate – At this point a person’s symptoms have become more noticeable and increasingly difficult to brush off or disregard. Along with a cough (with or without mucus), a person will now begin experiencing shortness of breath. Your doctor will likely recommend a long-acting bronchodilator as a course of treatment.
- Stage 3: Severe – The intensity and frequency of symptoms will increase at this stage. You may become increasingly susceptible to other health concerns and complications too, such as a range of respiratory infections, high blood pressure, lung cancer, heart problems and even depression. Flare-ups (exacerbations) of severe symptoms are common as this stage of the disease. Functioning normally will become increasingly challenging. Medications, such as corticosteroids, and oxygen therapy may be recommended by your doctor at this point.
- Stage 4: Highly severe – Everyday tasks become increasingly difficult as symptoms worsen. At this stage flare-ups are so severe, there is a much greater risk that they may become life-threatening. At this stage, surgery may also be considered as a treatment option.