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Recognizing the 4 Stages of COPD

March 11, 2022

By Tim Barker, Editorial Contributor

For most of us, walking around the block and climbing a flight of stairs are easy activities that keep our heart and lungs healthy. But these simple tasks are challenging, and in some cases even dangerous, for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“COPD is an umbrella term for several dangerous lung conditions – including chronic bronchitis and emphysema – that cause the airways to narrow, making it more difficult to breathe,” says Dr. Steven Jeffrey Seltzer, an internal medicine doctor at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg Medical Group Internal & Family Medicine.

The condition is often found in smokers over the age of 40 and is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, chronic cough, frequent respiratory infections, excessive mucus production and fatigue.

Stages of COPD

There’s no cure for COPD. But it can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your condition will be placed in one of four categories:

  • Stage 1 Symptoms are mild and often unnoticed, except during times of exertion. These include mild shortness of breath and a nagging dry cough.
  • Stage 2   Shortness of breath worsens, accompanied by a persistent cough and phlegm production. Flare-ups can cause changes in phlegm color.
  • Stage 3   Symptoms become more severe, especially in the mornings, with more frequent flare-ups. Some notice swollen ankles, feet and legs.
  • Stage 4.  Breathing takes greater effort. Heartbeat can become fast or irregular. A crackling sound can be heard in the chest when breathing. Delirium, weight loss or pulmonary hypertension are possible.

Managing Symptoms

While COPD is not reversible, its progression can be slowed and discomfort reduced. Your doctor will work with you to create a pulmonary rehabilitation plan that helps you manage your COPD and treat the symptoms.

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