Emphysema Life Expectancy

Emphysema is a chronic condition in which the air sacs in your lungs or the alveoli deteriorate gradually. This usually leads to breathing difficulty and even causes shortness of breath. It is usually referred to as Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) with chronic bronchitis. It has been estimated that more than 10 million people suffer from emphysema, and it is the fourth leading cause of deaths in the United States. Many people want to know about emphysema life expectancy, but it is important to get familiar with different stages of emphysema at first. Why? Read on and find answers by yourself.

Stages of Emphysema

GOLD, originally created by a group of experts, is now one reliable staging system that is commonly used to determine the stages of emphysema. The system measures the amount of air a patient of emphysema can exhale forcefully in one second, which is also known as FEV1, or Forced Expiratory Volume.

The staging system works as follows:

  • Stage I: In this stage, your FEV1 is greater than or equal to 80% of normal. This indicates mild emphysema.
  • Stage II: If your FEV1 is less than 80% but is no less than 50% of normal, you show signs of moderate emphysema.
  • Stage III: In this stage, your FEV1 is less than 50% but is higher than 30%. This indicates severe emphysema.
  • Stage IV: In this stage, your FEV1 drops down to 30% of normal. This shows very severe emphysema.

This staging system is quite reliable and is widely used by healthcare providers around the world. The only issue is that the staging system tells nothing about how patients of emphysema actually feel when in different stages.

Life Expectancy of Patients with Emphysema

The emphysema life expectancy for people with this condition depends on a number of factors. The most important factor is the timing of the diagnosis. Unfortunately, most people don't know they have this condition until there is at least 40% lung damage. In other words, you may not know you have developed this condition until you enter stage II or even stage III. It is due to this particular reason that emphysema prognosis isn't usually favorable.

In most cases, the average emphysema life expectancy is about five years, but it may drop to a couple of years if you don't seek treatment or continue smoking. It is worth mentioning that the life expectancy may increase if you know of this condition early.

Here's a table that clearly shows the emphysema life expectancy in different stages of emphysema.

Stage of Emphysema

Life Expectancy

Stage 1

Normal life expectancy with no smoking

Stage 2

Five years or more with treatment

Stage 3

Five years

Stage 4

Little time to live

What Will Affect the Life Expectancy of Patients with Emphysema?

Though it has been a general estimate, you should also know that this chronic condition's prognosis is impossible to determine in a person. Of course, the staging system really helps identify how severe the issue is, but it tells nothing about the future. Many other factors that are listed below may also affect the life expectancy of a person with emphysema.

  • Weight: It is important to maintain good weight and pay attention to your health as a whole system. You can achieve and maintain healthy body weight through proper diet and regular exercise. Your life expectancy may reduce if you have emphysema and you're obese as well.
  • Chronic conditions: Your life expectancy rate is sure to come down if you have emphysema and some other chronic conditions, such as connective tissue disorder or HIV.
  • Diabetes and heart problems: If you already have heart problems or diabetes and you develop emphysema as well, this will seriously affect your life expectancy because emphysema can aggravate your symptoms. This usually leads to several complications related to heart, which may eventually cause death.
  • Smoke: It is important to quit smoking to increase your life expectancy, but you won't be doing yourself any good if you don't protect yourself from secondhand smoke. It is equally important to avoid exposure to hazardous fumes and dust. Sometimes, simply inhaling outdoor fumes like car exhaust or indoor fumes like heating fuel, may lead to complications and affect your life expectancy. 

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