Life Expectancy in People With COPD

Life Expectancy in People With COPD

After being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) many people wonder about their life expectancy – a difficult topic to think about for sure. However, once you or your loved one learns the prognosis of COPD, motivation increases and that’s the point when most people get determined to incorporate the lifestyle changes needed to improve life quality and increase longevity.

How to Predict Life Expectancy in COPD Patients?

In general, doctors use a tool named the BODE index to predict life expectancy, i.e. the mortality rate from COPD, based on four different measures including body mass index – B, airway obstruction – O, dyspnea – D, and exercise capacity – E. Each of these measures is given a number of points which when added together can make a more accurate prognosis about how long may a person live after being diagnosed with COPD.

But, understand that the BODE index can only be used for making a general prediction, i.e. there are also other factors, like age, for example, affecting life expectancy in people with COPD. Now, let’s have a closer look at each of the four measures:

Body Mass Index

A body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat by comparing height and weight that applies to adult men and women. In other words, it is a calculation showing how overweight or underweight a person is based on their body frame. 

In addition, when it comes to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, being underweight is a bad sign. If a person’s BMI is higher than 21, they get zero points for their BODE index, and if it’s less than 21, they get one point.

Airway Obstruction

A spirometry test is the simplest tool for measuring airway obstruction. The test includes a marker called FEV1 (forced expiratory volume) which measures the percentage of air that is forcefully exhaled in one second.

Typically, this percentage is higher than 65% which gives zero BODE index points. But in case of an obstruction in the airways, it decreases significantly. So, for 50% to 64%, patients will get one point, for 36% to 49% two points, and for less than 36% three BODE index points.


The physical sensation of breathlessness or shortness of breath is called dyspnea. It is normally described as an intense tightening in the chest, difficulty breathing, air hunger, or a feeling of suffocation. This sensation is often more fierce after some activities which is why doctors usually make distinctions based on what patients do before they experience the feeling.

Dyspnea is normally expressed by the modified Medical Research Council (MMRC) Dyspnea Index, measured on a scale of zero to four. COPD patients will get zero BODE index points for MMRC Value of zero to one, one point for a value of two, three points for a value of three, and two points, for a value of four.

Exercise Capacity

Finally, exercise capacity is the measurement showing how active can someone be regardless of their COPD. Typically, exercise tolerance remarkably reduces by this lung disease. Yet, to get the measurements a standard test applies called the six-minute walk test.

If a person can walk more than 349 meters, they get zero BODE index points. For 250 to 249 meters, one point. For 150 to 249, two points. And for 150 meters or less, they get three BODE index points.

The Bottom Line

Once a doctor has determined the points for each of the four factors listed above, they are added together. The result is graded on a scale of 0 to 10, with higher grades corresponding to shorter life expectancy, and lower grades corresponding to longer life expectancy.