More Women Than Men Die From COPD
Researchers Say the Lung Disease Is on the Rise Among Women
WebMD News Archive
COPD: Men vs. Women continued...
Her team looked at, among other data sources, two large surveys, the
National Health Interview Survey and the National Health and Nutrition
Examination Survey (NHANES).
The researchers found:
- Death rates from COPD differ by sex. Beginning in 2000, annual deaths
of women from COPD surpassed those of men in the U.S.
- Symptoms tend to differ by sex. Women were more likely to report severe
shortness of breath than were the men, even with fewer years of smoking, but
reported similar degrees of cough.
- Women may be more susceptible than men to tobacco smoke. Cigarette smoking
is the primary risk factor for the disease, although air pollution, secondhand
smoke and heredity can contribute. "Women may also have a harder time
quitting," Han tells WebMD. Exactly why isn't certain, she adds. If the
gender susceptibility holds true, she says, "Smoking cessation, while it may
be harder for women, may be even more important [in preventing or minimizing
- Women are less likely to be diagnosed with COPD promptly or offered
appropriate tests. In research that investigated whether doctors show bias
against diagnosing the disease in women, COPD was given as the most probable
diagnosis much more often for males than females (64% vs. 49%) Han found. In a
survey of COPD patients, women were less likely than men to have been offered
breathing function tests.
Another expert who has studied gender differences in COPD agrees with Han's
contention that the stereotype of COPD is outdated. "It is no longer
accurate to say this is [primarily] a disease of elderly men," says Susan
Kennedy, PhD, MSc, professor of environmental health at the University of
British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions," she says. Among them:
"Are women more susceptible to dirty air, primarily cigarette
"There is some intriguing evidence that postmenopausal women may have a
different way of metabolizing the contaminants in dirty air," she says.
Take-Home Message for Women
For women, Kennedy says, the message is clear: "If they have difficulty
breathing, regardless of whether they are [or have been] a smoker or not, they
should see their doctor and ask for breathing tests to be done. Doctors are
less likely to diagnose COPD in women than in men and are less likely to order
Occupational and environmental exposures can contribute, too, Kennedy says.
"We also tend to make the mistake that only men have this kind of
exposures." But there is growing evidence that things such as cleaning
products and other contaminants that are used predominantly in jobs done by
women can play a role, too, she says.
Smoking cessation, of course, is crucial, says Han.
Several co-authors, but not Han, report receiving fees for research,
speaking, and consulting from pharmaceutical companies.