A new health report shows that women are now 37% more likely to develop COPD, or die from smoking-related illnesses than their male counterparts. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, was more prevalent among men not that long ago, but new statistics show that more and more women have picked up the habit of smoking, but even so, men are still smoking a little more than women on the whole.
COPD (which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis), is caused mainly by smoking – 90% of COPD cases caused by smoking, while the other 10% is caused by air pollution and a very rare genetic condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency. Even though on the average, men have been smoking for a longer amount of time and tend to smoke a little more than women, women are developing COPD and other smoking complications at a higher rate. Experts have a few suggestions for why this is:
On average, women are smaller than men and have smaller lungs. If there are irritants entering a smaller pair of lungs, they are more likely to become inflamed and damaged than a larger pair of lungs. This is one reason experts suspect that more women are now being diagnosed with COPD. Another reason is because the female sex hormone, estrogen, causes nicotine to build up in the body. This build up causes the lungs to become damaged from the nicotine, and it also makes smoking much harder to quit.
Inaccurate diagnosis may also be another problem in why so many women are being diagnosed with severe COPD, or dying tobacco-related deaths. Old statistics have had even professionals under the impression that COPD is largely a man’s disease, and when women came to the doctor with difficulty breathing, it was wrongly diagnosed as asthma.
Also, COPD is often under-diagnosed in general. COPD is a disease that, if the proper set of tests aren’t conducted together, there is a good chance it will be overlooked. Aside from difficulty breathing, any of the symptoms of COPD are also symptoms that can come along with other conditions. A spirometry test and an arterial blood gas test, along with a lung x-ray are all needed together to properly diagnose COPD.
The raising of awareness about COPD and the dangers of smoking are making professionals and patients alike reconsider their own diagnosis and how they are handled. It’s also possible that many women have taken notice to the dangers of smoking and decided to get a second opinion, or have themselves properly screened for the disease.
Quitting smoking and doing what one can to prevent COPD is important, since it is mostly a disease that can be prevented and properly treated, if the patient can quit smoking, even after the disease is diagnosed. It’s been shown that COPD will not continue to progress once the patient has stopped smoking.