People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may benefit from palliative care. This type of care can improve the quality of life for people with chronic or other serious illnesses. However, there are no exact hospice criteria for individuals with COPD.

COPD is a long-term condition that leads to decreased airflow in the lungs due to inflammation, making it difficult for a person to breathe.

Over 12.5 million people in the United States have received a COPD diagnosis, but many more may be unaware that they have the condition. More than 150,000 people die from COPD in the U.S. annually, equating to roughly one death every 4 minutes.

COPD has no cure and tends to worsen over time, but treatment may help slow its progression and control its symptoms. There are no exact hospice criteria for someone with the condition who is approaching the end of their life. However, people can speak with a doctor for individual guidance and support.

This article discusses palliative care recommendations for people with COPD, how it may benefit them, and when hospice care may benefit them. The article also lists a few questions individuals may ask healthcare professionals for further guidance about palliative and hospice care for COPD.

Two people's hands holding onto each other 1Share on Pinterest
LPETTET/Getty Images

Experts define palliative care as specialized medical care for those living with a serious illness, such as COPD. This approach aims to enhance a person’s current care by focusing on their quality of life. Hospice care is similar to palliative care but focuses on people approaching the end of life.

Palliative or supportive care focuses on managing the symptoms and maintaining the best quality of life for someone with COPD. Older research suggests palliative care benefits people across all stages of COPD. Additionally, a person may receive palliative care alongside other treatments.

Read more about the different stages of COPD.

Experts recommend that a clinician should refer a person to palliative care if breathlessness remains a significant concern even after treating all reversible causes. Breathlessness may involve any symptoms relating to an unpleasant sensation of being unable to breathe, including:

  • chest tightness
  • a feeling of suffocation
  • running out of breath
  • air hunger

Healthcare professionals also suggest that a doctor should refer patients to palliative care if they frequently visit the emergency departments for the sudden worsening of COPD symptoms.

Palliative care may also be an option for people experiencing stress, pain, or other side effects relating to COPD. Similarly, a person may find palliative care beneficial for managing pain following surgery.

By improving communication between healthcare professionals, the person with COPD, and their caregivers, palliative care may help prevent and relieve severe symptoms through the early identification, assessment, and treatment of symptoms.

It may also help support the practical, emotional, and spiritual needs of those with COPD and their families, especially since people in advanced stages of COPD may also experience anxiety, distress, or depression.

Palliative care teams may also support an individual with COPD and their families in the following ways:

  • managing postoperative pain
  • helping the individual and their loved ones discuss advanced care planning
  • offering assistance in making difficult decisions
  • managing fear, depression, and anxiety in both individuals and their caregivers
  • helping design a discharge plan and navigating the medical system
  • providing medications and therapies to relieve stress

A person receiving palliative care whose COPD symptoms are not improving may eventually feel that hospice care is more suitable.

In the final months before someone dies as a result of end stage COPD, they may experience a progressive decline in overall health, increasing symptoms, and a reliance on family and carers to perform their usual daily activities. At this stage, a person may consider hospice care.

However, those with COPD often receive end-of-life care in the hospital. People with the condition should speak with a healthcare professional for further guidance about when or if hospice care may be suitable for them.

People considering palliative or hospice care for themselves or their loved ones should speak with a healthcare professional for further information. They may wish to ask about:

  • referrals for palliative or hospice care in their local area
  • which setting the palliative care team can provide their care in — it may include the person’s home, an outpatient clinic, or the hospital
  • whether their insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid will cover any palliative or hospice care costs
  • the benefits of palliative and hospice care and what to expect
  • what types of healthcare professionals are part of the palliative or hospice care team

If the area where a person receives care does not have a palliative care specialist, they may search for a palliative care team at’s Provider Directory. People may select their preferred setting, such as their home, the hospital, or a nursing home, and enter their address to find nearby palliative care.

Palliative care may benefit a person with COPD, regardless of the stage of their condition. If COPD symptoms are making it difficult for people to perform everyday activities, or if the conditions significantly affect their well-being, they should consider consulting a doctor about palliative care.

People with advanced or end stage COPD may wish to consider hospice care if their symptoms worsen or do not improve following treatment. A doctor can provide further guidance about whether hospice care may be suitable.