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More Women Than Men Die From COPD

Researchers Say the Lung Disease Is on the Rise Among Women

Second Opinion

Another expert who has studied gender differences in COPD agrees with Han's contention that the stereotype of COPD is outdated.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 smoke?"

"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 breathing tests."

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.

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