Let's Talk About COPD Stages

Not all cases of this lung disease are equal. Learn more about the grading system for COPD, and what it means for your health outcomes.

    Our Pro PanelCOPD Stages

    We went to some of the nation's top experts in COPD to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Nereida A. Parada, M.D. headshot.

    Nereida A. Parada, M.D.Associate Professor of Medicine, Clinical Lead for Asthma and COPD

    Tulane School of Medicine, Tulane Asthma Center
    New Orleans, LA
    Paul Andrew Reyfman, M.D. headshot.

    Paul Andrew Reyfman, M.D.Assistant Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary and Critical Care

    Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
    Chicago, IL
    Byron Thomashow, M.D.  headshot.

    Byron Thomashow, M.D. Professor of Medicine, Co-Founder and Senior Medical Advisor

    Columbia University, COPD Foundation
    New York, NY
    Lung-shaped tree half on fire
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    Frequently Asked QuestionsCOPD Stages

    Does a spirometry test hurt?

    Not it all, and it takes less than 15 minutes. If you’ve ever practiced breathing in yoga class or meditation, it’s easy to get in the groove of the breathing that’s being asked of you. (There are studies in the works to confirm that a Peak Flow Test, a simpler set-up used to monitor people with asthma, is accurate and useful, too.)

    Is grading COPD like cancer staging?

    No. For cancer, staging is indicative of how widespread the disease has become. When cancer organizations update staging information, it’s because they’ve learned more about things like the way a tumor progresses, and the therapies that could stop its spread. In the case of COPD, grading is more a reflection on how a patient feels.

    Why did the COPD staging system change?

    Until a few years ago, most physicians used a 1-4 scale to stage COPD. But they found it didn’t accurately capture how someone felt, or predict the likelihood of flares or other COPD complications, so they switched to a letter-based approach that measured a person’s experience with COPD as well as lung function.

    Where can I find other people with COPD?

    The COPD Foundation created a community called COPD360Social where you can talk to people going through the same thing as you, get educational material, monthly newsletters, and more. Visit to sign up.

    Marjorie Korn

    Marjorie Korn

    Marjorie Korn is a health, medicine, and features writer based in New York City. She is also a Narrative Medicine instructor at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons.