Stage 3 COPD was a term that previously referred to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that caused moderate-to-severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, an increased risk of respiratory infections, and circulatory issues.

New guidelines assign people with two scores: a grade of 1–4, which reflects airflow limitation, and a letter from A–D, which reflects a person’s symptom and exacerbation history.

Keep reading for more information about COPD symptoms, treatment, and more.

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COPD is a form of progressive, chronic lung disease. There is currently no cure for COPD.

COPD results from damage to the airways or air sacs in the lungs, which causes them to have decreased function compared with healthy lungs. As the condition progresses, the lungs lose additional functionality.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lung function may decline due to several potential factors, including:

  • damage or swelling to the walls of the air sacs
  • loss of elasticity in the air sacs
  • airway inflammation
  • mucus interfering with the airflow

As the damage worsens, the airflow decreases, and this will cause the body to have difficulty removing carbon dioxide from the lungs as a person breathes out.

If the air sacs are also damaged, the person may not be able to get as much oxygen into their body.

There are a few different types of COPD, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. According to the American Lung Association (ALA), most people with COPD have symptoms of these conditions.

COPD stages

Previously, the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) indicated four stages of COPD that ranged from mild to severe. It staged COPD solely based on a person’s FEV1.

FEV1 measures the amount of air a person can exhale in 1 second, which indicates how well their lungs function.

Learn about FEV1 and COPD here.

The COPD stages ranged from 1 to 4, with stage 1 indicating a slight loss of lung function and stage 4 indicating a severe loss of lung function.

In stage 1 COPD, a person has an FEV of over 80%, meaning that their lung function is no more than 20% impaired. In stage 3 COPD, a person’s FEV1 will be 30–49% of its expected function, indicating that the lungs have a greatly diminished ability to function.

However, the new 2020 GOLD guidelines grade COPD with a score of 1–4 to classify airflow limitation and a letter from A–D to reflect the person’s present symptoms and history of moderate-to-severe exacerbations.

As a result, people will no longer receive a diagnosis that consists of a single stage of COPD. They will now receive both a grade and a group.

For example, doctors would class a person who has an FEV1 score of less than 30% and who has had three moderate exacerbations in the past year as GOLD grade 4, group D.

Learn more about the types and stages of COPD here.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says that long-term exposure to lung irritants can damage the lungs and airways and may cause COPD. Cigarette smoke is the most common irritant.

According to the ALA, a person inhales over 7,000 chemicals when they smoke a cigarette, and many of them damage the lungs.

These chemicals narrow the airways, destroy air sacs in the lungs, and cause swelling. All of these effects can contribute to COPD.

Some other potential causes of COPD include:

  • other forms of inhaled tobacco smoke, such as cigar smoke
  • secondhand smoke
  • exposure to air pollution, chemicals, or dust
  • alpha-1 deficiency, which is a rare genetic condition

According to the NHLBI, being over the age of 40 years or having a family history of COPD increases a person’s risk of developing COPD.

Some people with asthma or a history of childhood lung infections may also develop COPD.

The symptoms that a person with COPD experiences do not depend on the GOLD grade they have. Instead, they typically depend on how well the person controls their COPD.

That said, symptoms are more likely to occur and more likely to be severe at higher GOLD grades.

The Global Allergy & Airways Patient Platform says that when symptoms do start to appear, a person may develop a persistent cough with phlegm and shortness of breath, particularly after exercise.

As a person’s symptoms become more severe, they may also develop mental health symptoms, such as confusion and lower moods.

If their COPD worsens, a person may experience symptoms such as:

The CDC states that a person may also experience:

  • difficulty talking and catching their breath
  • gray or blue lips or fingernails from a lack of oxygen
  • a rapid heartbeat
  • weight loss

COPD damages a person’s lungs slowly over time. However, a person’s actions can affect the speed of the condition’s progression.

For example, according to the CDC, symptoms will worsen quicker due to continued smoking. On the other hand, if a person stops smoking, they can slow down the speed at which their lungs sustain damage.

A person can also slow the progression of the condition by avoiding other lung irritants. Although smoking is the primary cause of COPD, other pollutants in the air can cause damage to the lungs and accelerate the progression of the condition.

The NHLBI recommends that people get vaccinated against pneumonia and the flu. These infections can cause faster damage to the lungs, thereby increasing a person’s symptom severity much more quickly.

A person should work with a doctor or healthcare team to develop a treatment plan that includes lifestyle changes, prescription medications, and respiratory therapies.

Learn about COPD and life expectancy here.

COPD currently has no cure.

The Global Allergy & Airways Patient Platform indicates that treatment can help extend the length of a person’s life, even if they have an advanced form of the condition.

It recommends that people take the following steps to help improve their quality of life and increase their life expectancy:

  • Watch for any symptoms of a flare-up and take the necessary action when one occurs.
  • Work with a doctor to determine the best treatment plan.
  • Exercise safely.
  • Avoid airborne pollution, if possible.
  • Quit smoking, if applicable.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Work with a healthcare team to handle any mental health concerns, such as depression or anxiety.

The term stage 3 COPD previously referred to a more severe or advanced form of the condition. It meant that a person’s FEV1 score was 30–49%.

In the latest COPD guidelines, this score is combined with a letter that signals a person’s symptom and exacerbation history.

As COPD progresses, a person is more likely to experience severe symptoms that can cause them to feel tired or sick. For example, they may struggle to complete daily activities or exercise and develop a chronic cough.

A person can take steps to slow the progression of the condition by quitting smoking (if applicable), acting on other lifestyle change recommendations, and taking any medications as prescribed.