More on Women and COPD

Kathi MacNaughton Health Pro
  • COPD doesn't discriminate: both men and women get it, you can be young or old and develop COPD, and both smokers and non-smokers may be diagnosed with this disease. However, that being said, the numbers are not equal.

    • Smokers ARE more likely to get COPD than non-smokers. (85 percent of people with COPD smoked at some point in their lives.)
    • People over the age of 45 are more likely to get COPD than younger people.

      And as far as women vs. men, there are some really significant differences when it comes to COPD.


      Women vs. Men & COPD - What's Different

      • COPD is on the rise in women, in the number of women getting it, in the severity of their disease and in the numbers dying from it. In fact, more women today die from COPD than men do. At the same time, they are less likely to be diagnosed during the early stages and less likely to be offered the appropriate treatments that could slow progression of the illness.
      • Women are much more likely to be affected by chronic bronchitis, one of the forms of COPD, than men are. The same is not true when it comes to emphysema, which is more likely to affect men. But because COPD has historically been thought of as an "old man's disease", women are often not diagnosed or are misdiagnosed as having asthma, a similar but different disease that does sometimes accompany COPD.
      • Female smokers have a higher risk for lung damage from even light levels of smoking than men do and the lung damage tends to occur at a younger age too. The numbers of women getting COPD has skyrocketed in the last couple of decades, partly because smoking in women also increased since the 1950s. Women may have thought that smoking a few cigarettes a day would not be harmful, but studies suggest that women's lungs are much more sensitive to the toxins in cigarettes than men's are. 
      • Women have a harder time quitting smoking than men do. Not only that, but they have a harder time staying quit.
      • Women are more likely to develop non-smoking related emphysema too. Although women seem to be more susceptible to tobacco toxins, they are also more likely to have have gender-linked genetic factors that make them more likely to develop COPD.
      • Women with COPD describe a lower quality of life because of their disease. In some studies, they report more severe breathing difficulties and more anxiety and depression.
      • COPD progresses more rapidly in women than it does in men. Women tend to get sicker much more quickly than men with COPD do. And, as stated earlier, for the last decade, more women than men have been dying from COPD, even though overall rates of COPD have declined.

      What Does All This Mean?

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      So now that we know all of the above facts, where does that leave us? Why is there such a significant gender bias with COPD? Unfortunately, experts still aren't sure. More research studies are needed to get to the root of such questions as:

      • How do risk factors and exposures vary among men and women?
      • Are the differences we're seeing due to biological or behavioral causes?
      • How do these variables affect whether men vs. women develop COPD?
      • Why does COPD progress more quickly in women than in men?

      And finally, why do outcomes differ? Is it because of women are slower to be diagnosed, because of underlying differences in men's and women's bodies, or because of cultural and social differences between the genders?


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      Hopefully, we'll have some answers to these questions soon. Because, with such knowledge may come breakthroughs in both prevention and treatment of COPD in both women and men.

      Published On: May 24, 2010