COPD Progression

COPD progresses over
time, but you can
be proactive.

When you’re diagnosed with COPD, your doctor can identify how far your COPD has progressed. The good news: No matter where you stand, there are treatments to help you manage your symptoms and live your life with COPD.

Charting COPD Progression
COPD GOLD Guidelines

How COPD is classified:
charting COPD progression

As your COPD changes over time, it may become more difficult to breathe, and you may experience more symptoms, as well as COPD flare-ups, or exacerbations. You may also require trips to the emergency room or hospital due to your COPD symptoms.

When you get a diagnosis, your doctor can use the GOLD Report to assess your COPD by stage and group. This helps your doctor prescribe the best possible treatment for your symptoms, may improve your lung function, and may even reduce flare-ups.

If your doctor shares your GOLD classification with you, or if you wish to know where you stand, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of what each classification means. Even if you receive a diagnosis of advanced COPD, you should know that it is still possible to treat your COPD. The sooner you receive proper treatment, the better able you will be to manage your symptoms and maintain your quality of life.

GOLD Classification By Stage
GOLD Classification & COPD Stages

GOLD classification of lung function by stage

When your COPD is classified by stage (also known as a grade), it will be diagnosed as Stage 1, 2, 3, or 4. In general terms, your staging is based on your ability to breathe.

Each stage is determined by a calculation that takes into account the results of your breathing, or spirometry, test and other factors, including your age, sex, height, and ethnicity.

The higher the stage, with 4 being the highest, the more advanced your COPD is, and the less likely you will be able to breathe normally. 

GOLD Classification Groups
GOLD Classification by Group

GOLD classification of COPD by group 

In addition to staging your lung function, your doctor may also classify your COPD by group.

Your group is determined by the severity of your COPD symptoms, the number of COPD exacerbations you have experienced in the past 12 months, and the number of hospitalizations required as a result of your exacerbations.

A COPD exacerbation is a sudden worsening of your symptoms, and it’s one of the telltale signs that your COPD may be progressing. 

Patient Group


in past 12 months


Hospitalizations due to

exacerbations in past 12 months    


fewer symptoms,

lower exacerbation risk 

0-1  AND 0


more symptoms,

lower exacerbation risk    

0-1  AND 0


fewer symptoms,

higher exacerbation risk    

2 or more  OR 1 or more


more symptoms,

higher exacerbation risk

2 or more
OR 1 or more
COPD Classification
Understanding COPD Progression

What you can do

When you’re given a COPD classification, it’s important to know that your stage or group doesn’t define you. Always remember that you can choose how to manage your symptoms and live your life. 

Here are ways you can be your own best advocate:

  • Be vigilant and keep your doctor informed, especially if you have more difficulty breathing and experience worsening symptoms or COPD exacerbations.
  • Ask your doctor about your treatment options, including dual therapy and triple therapy. These therapies combine different types of medicines that can help manage moderate to severe COPD symptoms and may even help reduce or prevent COPD exacerbations.
  • Stay positive and stay on your treatment plan. Get tips on how you can stick with your treatment all the way, every day.
  • Be prepared if symptoms flare. Create a plan of action with your doctor in case you experience the sudden, severe symptoms of a COPD exacerbation. 
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