Is COPD Fatal?

Is COPD Fatal?

COPD is a chronic lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It’s not fatal, so long as you have access to the right treatments and take care of yourself.

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One of the first questions anyone diagnosed with COPD will ask is, “is it fatal?” Well, this is a complex question, but we will begin to address it here. We look at the outlook for COPD patients and how to improve your life expectancy and quality of life with treatment and good COPD management.

A diagnosis of COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, can be a daunting thing. 

This chronic lung condition is a serious illness that has no cure. 

Whilst this might sound scary, knowledge is the most powerful medicine, so if you receive this diagnosis, it is important to learn as much as you can about your condition so that you can change your lifestyle to mitigate its impact on your health.

As the British Lung Foundation explains, COPD, is a “group of lung conditions including bronchitis and emphysema. They make it difficult to empty air out of the lungs because your airways have been narrowed.” Patients with COPD find it harder to breathe due to damaged lung tissue, reduced elasticity in the lining of the airways, and/or inflammation of these linings.

One of the first questions anyone diagnosed with COPD will ask is, “is it fatal?” Well, this is a complex question, but we will begin to address it here.

The outlook for COPD patients

The outlook for COPD patients varies significantly based on numerous factors. These factors include how early the diagnosis and intervention was made, what exacerbating lifestyle factors are at play, your age, and which symptoms you experience.

As explains, the life expectancy of a COPD sufferer is measured by health professionals using something called the BODE index. The BODE index attempts to place your COPD into one of four stages that are determined based on body mass, airflow obstruction, shortness of breath, and exercise capacity. This is not entirely accurate, as the variables measured often change, but generally-speaking, types 3-4 of COPD are those that involve risks of serious or fatal complications like pneumonia or heart failure.

Medical researchers are always studying the outlook for COPD patients, and how to improve it. One recent study found that COPD is associated with “only a modest reduction in life expectancy for never smokers, but with a very large reduction for current and former smokers”. Their findings suggest that smoking is the leading cause of marked reduction in life expectancy for COPD patients.

They found that, for those with stages 1 or 2 COPD, the average loss of years in life expectancy at age 65 was at most a few. Current smokers with stage 3 or 4 COPD in their study, however lost about six years of life expectancy, in addition to the almost four years lost due to smoking.

Essentially, what all of this means is that the outlook for COPD varies greatly based on which stage of the disease you have – but also how you manage your condition. This is good news for patients, because it means they have the power to improve their condition, and their outlook.

Is COPD fatal?

So this leads to the essential question – is COPD fatal? Well, it depends on how you view that question. It is a chronic condition, with no cure, but many patients live for many years after their diagnosis, with proper treatment. COPD deaths are more than often co-morbid, meaning that COPD in conjunction with another illness, such as pneumonia or heart failure, can lead to death. 

The Health Line explains that COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. – and it is a major cause of death in the UK, too. There is no way to reverse the damage done to your lungs by COPD, but there are many ways to prevent it getting worse or leading to other problems, so getting an early diagnosis and complying fully with your treatment and management plan is vital.

This will give you the best possible life expectancy, whatever stage of COPD you are diagnosed with.

COPD is a lifelong condition, so in that sense it is fatal, because we are all mortal. However, it does not mean that your life has to be cut short. With proper treatment and management, you can still lead a long and full life with COPD.

“We are all sadly going to die at some time in the future. But more than likely with COPD and not because of it”


Complications with COPD

  • As we previously suggested, COPD deaths are almost always due to co-morbid factors. Otherwise known as ‘complications’, these are other illnesses that, experienced with COPD, can cause serious problems. These are important to be aware of, and to know how to prevent and treat effectively to reduce the risks they can present.


    For COPD patients, who have a weakened pulmonary system, pneumonia can be a dangerous illness. In these patients, pneumonia can exacerbate damage to the lungs, leading to a series of illnesses that can weaken the lungs even further, deteriorating the health of those with COPD. This makes it very important to take all the possible steps to prevent infection if you have COPD, including maintaining good hygiene and hand washing, keeping out of contact with people who have infectious illnesses, and boosting your immune system with a healthy diet and lifestyle. You can also look into getting pneumonia and flu vaccines to prevent coming down with this condition.

    Heart failure

    One of the most problematic complications of COPD is heart failure. People with COPD have lower levels of oxygen in their bloodstream, which often puts a strain on the heart. This can cause pulmonary hypertension in under 10 percent of patients. In most cases, developing heart failure can be avoided by properly managing COPD treatment, but it is important to look out for any signs of heart problems, such as leg swelling, so that you can prevent heart failure.

    Lung cancer

    Unfortunately, many cases of COPD are caused by smoking, so it is unsurprising that one of the leading complications with COPD is lung cancer. Chronic inflammation within the lungs can complicate the conditions when experienced in conjunction, with genetics possibly also playing a role. Therefore it is vital that anyone with COPD avoids anything that could lead to lung cancer or further lung damage – particularly smoking.


    COPD cannot cause diabetes, but if you already have diabetes, it can have an impact on your outlook with COPD. One particular risk is harmful interactions between COPD and diabetes medications – so it is key to discuss this with your doctor to ensure you take only medications that don’t exacerbate either condition. Diabetes can also restrict the cardiovascular system, which can worsen your COPD symptoms, so it is important to keep on top of both conditions to prevent complications.


    You might not know that COPD in older patients involves a risk of developing dementia. This is because the reduction of oxygen in the system, high carbon dioxide levels, and blood vessel damage in the brain can lead to dementia. This is all the more likely in smokers. Dementia also makes COPD more difficult to manage, as patients may be more likely to forget to take their medications. If this is the case, it is important to use technology such as smart inhalers, which remind patients when to take their inhaler to ease their symptoms and boost long-term respiratory health.As conclude, “The truth is how long you live once you have been diagnosed is up to you. Your life and how long you survive once diagnosed is literally in your own hands. How long you survive will depend on your actions because although COPD is progressive that progress, providing you do not smoke, is very slow. Just simple lifestyle changes can and will add years to your life.”Whilst COPD is chronic, it does not have to cause fatality. By simply engaging in moderate physical exercise, maintaining your COPD treatment plan and refraining from smoking, you have the best chances of a long and happy life with COPD.