Have COPD exacerbation within last 12 months and prescribed an antibiotic and steroid

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It is caused by damage to the lungs over many years, usually from smoking.

COPD Exacerbation

Many people with COPD have attacks called flare-ups or exacerbations (say "egg-ZASS-er-BAY-shuns"). This is when your usual symptoms quickly get worse and stay worse. A COPD flare-up can be dangerous, and you may have to go to the hospital.

Symptoms include:

  • Coughing up more mucus than usual.
  • A change in the color or thickness of that mucus.
  • More shortness of breath than usual.

These attacks are most often caused by infections-such as acute bronchitis and pneumonia-and air pollution.

The stages of COPD

The stages of COPD are often defined according to your symptoms plus a measure of how well your lungs work, called your "lung function."

In the following symptoms lists, lung function FEV1 is a test result that shows how fast you can breathe air out of your lungs. FEV1 stands for forced expiratory volume in 1 second.

FEV1 can be measured by machines called spirometers (say "spy-RAW-muh-terz"). The test result is reported as a percentage of normal. In other words, an FEV1 of 100% means the lungs are working normally; 80% is less than normal; 30% is very much less than normal.

Here is how the stages of COPD are described by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, also known as GOLD:

Mild COPD (stage 1)

  • Usually, but not always, a chronic cough that often brings up mucus from the lungs
  • Lung function FEV1 of 80% of normal or higher

Moderate COPD (stage 2)

  • Chronic cough with a lot of mucus
  • Shortness of breath, especially with exercise
  • An occasional COPD flare-up
  • Lung function FEV1 of 50% to 79%

Severe COPD (stage 3)

  • Chronic cough with a lot of mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue and a reduced ability to exercise
  • Repeated and sometimes severe COPD flare-ups
  • Lung function FEV1 of 30% to 49%

Very severe COPD (stage 4)

  • Chronic cough with a lot of mucus
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Blue skin color, especially in the lips, fingers, and toes (called cyanosis)
  • Fluid buildup in the legs and feet (called edema)
  • Life-threatening COPD flare-ups
  • Lung function FEV1 of less than 30%, or of less than 50% along with chronic respiratory failure (a condition caused by carbon dioxide that stays in the lungs)