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COPD Health Center

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COPD May Hit Women Harder Than Men

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Worse Lung Function, Quality of Life for Women
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 22, 2006 -- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) appears to be harsher for women than for men, new research shows.

COPD is the No. 4 cause of death for U.S. adults. COPD is a group of diseases -- including emphysema and chronic bronchitis -- in which airflow is blocked and people have trouble breathing.

The University of South Florida’s Claudia Cote, MD, and colleagues studied 85 women and 95 men with COPD. The women’s group and the men’s group included a wide range of COPD conditions.

The patients took tests of lung function, disease severity, and quality of life; they also took a six-minute walking test. Women scored worse virtually across the board, according to results presented in San Diego at the American Thoracic Society’s International Conference.

Harsher for Women?

The researchers aren’t belittling COPD in men. Instead, they wanted to describe differences seen among the male and female patients they studied.

Cote and colleagues note “significant differences in the expression of disease severity,” as well as more breathing problems, worse lung function, and worse quality of life in the women COPD patients, compared with men.

Age didn’t seem to explain the gender gap, since the women were younger than the men, the study shows. The differences between women and men with COPD “may play a role in the increased mortality (death) rate seen among female patients with COPD,” the researchers write.

Rising Rates

COPD rates have risen in the U.S. in recent decades, with an estimated 10 million adults diagnosed with COPD in 2000 and possibly many more undiagnosed, according to the CDC. While more men die of COPD than women, increases in COPD rates have been steeper for women than men.

Consider these CDC statistics:

  • COPD death rate rose from 20.1 deaths per 100,000 women in 1980 to 56.7 deaths per 100,000 women in 2000.
  • COPD death rate rose from 73 deaths per 100,000 men in 1980 to 82.6 deaths per 100,000 men in 2000.
  • Women had more hospitalizations (404,000) and emergency department visits (898,000) than men (hospitalizations: 322,000; emergency department visits: 551,000) in 2000.

Tobacco use, air quality, asthma, genetic factors, and respiratory infections may influence COPD risk. The CDC’s web site suggests that rising tobacco use among women likely accounts for the sharper growth in COPD rates for women in recent years.

As with many diseases, early detection, prompt treatment, and becoming smoke-free may make a positive difference with COPD.

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