What Does “GOLD COPD” Mean?

You know what COPD is, but what does GOLD COPD mean? It refers to guidelines that define a patient's COPD stage while ensuring a treatment plan meant to boost COPD life expectancy.

what does gold copd mean

COPD Gold is a collaboration among leading health centers to offer guidance in COPD care.

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“GOLD COPD”—you may have read or heard the phrase in relation to lung diseases. But what does GOLD COPD mean?

The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) is a program created to raise awareness of COPD signs and symptoms and to boost COPD life expectancy. It was launched in collaborative effort between the National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the World Health Organization.

GOLD COPD guidelines are used to assess how severe a patient’s COPD is, and to establish his or her COPD prognosis. GOLD COPD also has guidelines for the use of spirometry in assessing COPD signs and symptoms.

Spirometry Testing

A spirometer is a machine that measures how fast air is blown out of the lungs, as well as the total amount of air inhaled and exhaled—you simply take a deep breath in and then exhale as hard and as long as possible into a hose connected to the spirometer.

The spirometer takes several types of measurements. Some common ones used for assessing COPD signs and symptoms are as follows:

  • Forced vital capacity (FVC): The total amount of air that can forcibly be blown out after inhalation.
  • Forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1): The amount of air that can be blown out in one second.
  • The ratio of FEV1 to FVC (FEV1/FVC): In healthy adults, this should be 75 to 80 percent.
  • Peak expiratory flow (PEF): The speed of air moving out of the lungs at the beginning of an exhalation.
COPD patient in bed

COPD requires significant medical supervision and rehab. In this instance the patient is using an incentive spirometer to build back lung function depleted by COPD.

GOLD COPD standards recommend that people who are at high risk for COPD should have a spirometry test. Specifically, this includes:

  • People who are older than 40 and who have a history of exposure to COPD risk factors, such as tobacco smoke
  • People who have had exposure to other kinds of smoke, or dusts and fumes (for example, those who may have worked in a machine factory or grain mill)
  • People who have COPD signs and symptoms such as a chronic cough with mucus and/or phlegm

What Does GOLD COPD Mean? COPD Stages Help Explain

To answer the question “What does GOLD COPD mean?” it’s important to consider the the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. First, consider that people with COPD have a decrease in FEV1 (the amount of air that can be blown out in one second). As the disease gets worse, the FVC (the total amount of air that can be exhaled after inhalation) also deteriorates compared with people of the same age who have normal lung function.

In GOLD guidelines, COPD is divided into four stages: mild, moderate, severe, and very severe. These classifications are based on increasing severity of airflow restriction and symptoms. The spirometry reading for FEV1 is generally used to determine the severity classification, which can provide information as to your life expectancy with COPD.

  • Stage 1 COPD: Mild COPD. Spirometry shows mild limitation in airflow. Chronic cough and sputum production may be present. At this stage, the person is often unaware of impaired lung function.
  • Stage 2 COPD: Moderate COPD. Spirometry shows limitation in airflow that is worse than in mild COPD. Shortness of breath typically occurs with exertion. Cough and sputum production are more likely than in mild COPD. At this stage, the person may first become aware of a problem with breathing, and seek medical advice.
  • Stage 3 COPD: Severe COPD. Airflow limitation becomes progressively worse. Shortness of breath will increase, even with even a small amount of exertion, and the person will likely feel fatigued. Quality of life often diminishes.
  • Stage 4 COPD: Very severe COPD. Stage 4 COPD may also be known as end stage COPD. Airflow is severely compromised, and this may lead to heart problems, such as heart failure. Quality of life is markedly impaired. Exacerbations of the disease may be life-threatening.

Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.

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Kate Brophy

Kate Brophy is an experienced health writer and editor with a long career in the UK and United States. Kate has been Executive Editor of the Icahn School of Medicine … Read More

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