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What is the life expectancy of someone with COPD?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Dec 12, 2021.

Official answer


The life expectancy of someone diagnosed with COPD can vary based upon their age, what stage of disease they have, and if they still smoke, are a former smoker, or never smoked.

  • Studies have shown that for a male who is still smoking at age 65 and classified with GOLD Stage 3 or 4 COPD, the life expectancy was reduced by 5.8 years. For a male 65 years of age with Stage 1 disease and still smoking, life expectancy was reduced 0.3 years, and for Stage 2, it was reduced by 2.2 years. In addition, there are another 3.5 years of life lost due to smoking itself.
  • In former smokers, life expectancy was reduced by 1.4 years for Stage 2 disease and 5.6 years for Stage 3 or 4 disease.
  • In people who have never smoked but are diagnosed with COPD, life expectancy was reduced by 0.7 years for Stage 2 disease, and by 1.3 years for Stages 3 or 4 disease.

Another study estimated 5 to 6 years of life lost in both male and female participants with COPD as compared with corresponding non-COPD populations in the same age range. In addition researchers found that almost 65% of the causes of deaths were not related to the lungs, but involved heart and blood vessel, diabetes, cancer and kidney diseases.

Symptoms of COPD due to smoking tend to start at 50 to 60 years of age and will continue to worsen unless you stop smoking. If you stop smoking, you will also lower your risk for other potentially life-threatening diseases, such as stroke, heart attack or cancer. Also, avoid secondhand smoke and other irritants in the air, such as exhaust, chemicals, dust and other pollutants.

Learn more: What are the 4 stages of COPD?

In general, if you still smoke or are a former smoker, your reduction in life expectancy is much greater than if you never smoked. If you smoke and have been diagnosed with COPD, it is very important you stop smoking to help prolong your life -- and quality of life -- as long as possible.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a group of lower respiratory (lung) diseases that includes both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD cannot be cured but there are medicines to help control symptoms. This group of diseases ranks 4th among leading causes of death in the U.S.

  • In emphysema, the walls that separate the air sacs in the lungs are damaged. These sacs lose their shape, become larger, and can fill with mucus.
  • In chronic bronchitis, the lining of the airways becomes irritated and inflamed and also thickens with mucus. In both conditions, coughing is common and breathing becomes difficult.
  • Most people who are diagnosed with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis and the more broad term COPD is used.

Related: What medicines are used to treat COPD?

  • Shu CC, Lee JH, Tsai MK, et al. The ability of physical activity in reducing mortality risks and cardiovascular loading and in extending life expectancy in patients with COPD. Sci Rep. 2021;11(1):21674. Published 2021 Nov 4. doi:10.1038/s41598-021-00728-2
  • Shavelle RM, Paculdo DR, Kush SJ, et al. Life expectancy and years of life lost in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: findings from the NHANES III Follow-up Study. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2009;4:137-148. doi:10.2147/copd.s5237
  • Patient education: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (Beyond the Basics). Updated June 9, 2021. Up to Date. Accessed Dec. 12, 2021 at

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