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British Lung Foundation
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Does COPD get worse?

Hi everyone

I was speaking to a nurse the other day about lungs, we got ont emphysima.

She told me that what ever stage you are at it with it, it won't get any worse if you don't do anything to excellerate it ie smoke ect.

My own doctr more or less told me the same including my surgery nurse who I saw a few months ago.

I was reading up on emphysima and some sites say it will get worse over time, I know about the general lung decline over time in healthy persons however I think doctors ect don't want to commit themself to saying it will or won't get worse over the years.

My understanding is if you lead as much a healthy life style as possible and don't smoke again it won't get worse as you ain't doing anything to excellerate the condition.

Any views on this.

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16 Replies

Hi david,

i had my occupational health appiontment in october and the doctor there told me, that i can stay the same for many many years it i look after myself, so maybe what you are

told is true,

rose x

hi stitch my brother had emphysema, but he was a heavy smoker, it was,nt till he had a collapsed lung that stopped him smoking, but due to bad scarring from t.b his lungs were not in good condition in any case,he was a taxi driver and on a run to heathrow airport he had a good supply of fags

no one new what smoking could do such damage, i feel for people who cannot give it up because they are so additive my brother and sister were.

i laugh when my brother nicked the matrons fags when he was 10 and she never found out who didit.

so good luck jan

I think the only guarantee of it not getting any worse is never getting another lung infection

and always act immediately if one begins. As well as....

Stopping smoking, staying smoke free, avoiding any sort of smoke, keeping up the regular exercise, avoiding people who may be infected with a cold or flu, eating a good diet etc etc, all are necessary if any one wants to aim for remaining stable and avoiding further lung damage.

In reality its an unknown quantity.

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I think we all live in hope that it won't get any worse, the research I have looked at I have found that some people can stay stable for many years, others decline very rapidly even when doing everything possible to keep healthy, ie not smoking etc.

Most of the information available says it's a progressive illness and nothing lives in a vacuum so the lack of oxygen caused by copd effects other organs within the body which may overtime lead to other health complications. I would have to say one way or another it progresses,I hope to be proved wrong.

Best wishes



Hi David, am sorry, but it does get worse, I am testament to it. But, it can depend on what kind of emphysema you have, there is patchy emphysema where the damage is in patches, or the kind (can't remember the name of it!) where the damage is evenly spread. I imagine the patchy type will get worse slower than the all over type. I gave up smoking 3 years ago and was initially a lot better, but now am nearly as bad as i was beforehand - which is pretty bad. It is definitely progressive and anything you can do to keep it at bay, the better. We are also all individuals and some of us cope with it better than others. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news and I don't know why health professionals should tell you otherwise. My copd nurse from the community matron service (actually, she is a matron, although I think the term is used more loosely than it used to be) came the other day and told me it was ok to take a certain drug in a different way than I'd been taking it. She assured me it was fine. I wasn't convinced. She later phoned and said she'd spoken to a doctor and not to take it the way she said but to carry on as I had been! Our lives in their hands....!

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Not sure what I think David. I agree that it is a progressive disease but I think every case is different. I would say it depends on the type of lung problems you have. If you have only mild COPD like me then I think stopping smoking, keeping fit etc. could stop it progressing much if at all. But its also a matter of luck. If you get repeated lung infections then it must make it worse. Especially pneumonia.

I have got a friend who was diagnosed with mild COPD about 5 years ago and gave up smoking 3 and a half years ago. She has now got moderate COPD. But she is quite overweight, eats the wrong foods and doesn't really get much excercise. So its obvious to me that these are really essential to health.

Not sure if this makes sense.

Bev x

I have it and i think stich is right. if you can keep clear of infections and when you get an infection get no complications, you use the right antibiotic first or second time, you keep fit hydrated, and with very good nutrition,and maintain your imune system with all the vitamins minerals etc, i think you could maintain the state you are at,

the problems are GP's are not all that good at listening to us, as we are our own experts because we live the condition 24/7 and medical staff need to translate what we are saying and treat us acordingly

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This was one of the questions asked at the Pulmonary Rehab course I went to. We were told that with good diet, good exercise and avoidance of infections, you can stay at the same level for years. However we are unlikely to be fortunate enough never to get another infection, and each one does a little more damage. Agree with everyone here, every case is different, all you can do is follow healthy guidelines, stay positive.

The amount of times we go for checks be them surgery or hospital we will always run the risk of catching something.

I think if you stop smoking when its mild copd and live in a germ free, dust free, perfect climate, eat all the right foods,have the right genes,take your medicine and exercise well and regularly then maybe,maybe you could slow down the progress.

Some of us give up smoking but nothing we can do can stop its progress, I was a bit fazed when the doctor said of my Mum, ''oh yes she carried on smoking didn't she?'' well actualy no she'd stopped for years, but it progressed anyway and now mine seems to be though I stopped smoking eight years ago,( the doctor thought I was still smoking last time I had an infection!) Best to stay positive though!!! xxx

Stopping smoking is the very first thing to do. Watch your diet and exercise as much as you comfortably can. Do whatever possible to avoid infections, and you stand a better chance of keeping your copd from running downhill with you.

There are always exceptions of course.

Ignore any of the above, particularly smoking, and I'm afraid you can expect to get much worse.

I have now seen 2 specialists who have both said that if you do the right things and don't get too many infections, the deterioration is only in line with natural ageing. I have no reason to doubt what they, or the BLF say. I also know that since I have lost weight and got fitter, I feel much better.

I have a friend whose COPD is worse then mine and she has had it for 20 years, she still works and it has not got worse. So maybe there is an element of luck as well.

There are a lot of variables as people have said though such as living somewhere with clean, fresh air; no pollution, no passive smoking; no damp; good heating etc. I am also a firm believer in cooking all freshly prepared food, not ready meals. We all probably have very different lifestyles which might also have an impact.

Lynne xx


I was amazed at all the feed back from my question.

My own doctor is a GP and also attends Hospital during the week (lung specialist) his most single advice was to stop smoking, he stated it takes about 2 years non smoking for the body to ballance it's self out, I think it's all down to common sense and a healthy life style, I wish us all the best of luck and pray that one day there is a break through in this horrid disease.


I understand each time you have an exacerbation you lungs can deteriorate.

I have certainly found that each time I get a serious chest infection my lungs seem to recover a little less.

I gave up smoking 20 years ago, eat a very good diet, live right out in the countryside and walk a mile each day .

i was diagnosed about 2 months ago with mild copd stopped smoking straight away my doctor told me if i never have another cig the lungs will decline with age like people without copd and i could live for many years to come thats what i am banking on good luck

I gave up smoking 15 years ago following a TIA and heart issues. I have just been diagnosed with COPD (Emphysema) both my mother and her sister were heavy smokers and had this disease. So far my advice has been to lose weight, get fitter and eat 'properly'.

In Wales we have a GP referral programme for exercise classes at the local gym with specially trained instructors, I await assessment. I think that positive attitude to doing exercise, losing weight etc all helps as does meditation.

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