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Within the final stages of COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airflow is severely limited and a person can become very short of breath after simply walking a few feet. In severe cases, many complications can arise from COPD, including respiratory failure and even heart failure on the right side.
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Stage III and IV COPD
The final stage of COPD is called severe COPD. This means that a breathing test will show severe limitations on airflow, and the sufferer is winded after very little activity. Stage III is determined when between 30-50% of normal breathing can be found, but the sufferer is normally very tired and short of breath. The patient also will need extra treatments and sometimes hospitalization due to the many exacerbations from daily life. Stage IV COPD is called end-stage or very severe COPD. In patients of this category, less than 30% of normal airflow is found, and being short of breath while at rest is more common than not.
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Treatment for Final Stages of COPD
Goals of treating COPD are not to cure the disease, as there is no cure at this time. To relieve symptoms with few or no side effects, to slow down the disease’s progression, to improve daily tolerances and to prevent or treat complications of problems associated with COPD are all goals of treatment, even with end stage COPD. Treatments are different for each patient, but will include medication, oxygen, pulmonary rehab and sometimes even surgery.
Bronchodilators are normally used as treatment, and work by relaxing airway muscles, and open the airway for breathing to resume. These medications are inhaled and can be long or short acting in nature. This is normally used as a part of stage III COPD, while in stage IV more inhaled bronchodilators will be used. Glucocorticosteroids are inhaled steroids that also reduce the inflammation in the airway. Finally, pneumonia and flu vaccines are necessary to help keep the patient healthy during these seasons when breathing can be impaired by these illnesses.
There is no agreed upon definition of the final or end stages of COPD, as all pulmonologists have their own ideas about what the final stages are. Patients can live for years at these stages, with medications and breathing treatments to control the impaired airways.