The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Your Biological Sex as a Risk Factor for COPD
For many years, it has been assumed that men are the primary target of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an umbrella term that is used to encompass chronic lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. These conditions often leave sufferers struggling to breathe. Previous research and statistics have supported the notion that lung disease is primarily a men’s disease, but new studies have now shown that women may actually be affected by lung disease to a greater extent.
Two of the main diseases encompassed under the COPD umbrella—chronic bronchitis and emphysema—have both shown to be more common among women. Females are approximately twice as likely to be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis as men. Historically, emphysema affected males more often, but in recent surveys, more women have reported being diagnosed with emphysema. None of these statistics account for the large number of individuals affected, but not diagnosed with COPD. Interestingly, women who present identical symptoms as men to a physician are less likely to be diagnosed with COPD. This demonstrates a lack of physician understanding about the increasing probability of women suffering from COPD. Perhaps this lack of diagnosis on part by the physician is one of the reasons that women are more likely to die from COPD than men. We often hear that early diagnosis saves lives; perhaps the same is true for early diagnosis of lung disease.
When people hear the words lung disease, cigarette smoking is often one of the first things that come to mind. Smoking is one of the main contributors to a diagnosis of chronic lung disease; it is estimated that roughly eighty percent of COPD deaths are smoking related. For women, smoking increases the chances of a COPD-related death by thirteen percent; men are not in the clear with an increase of twelve percent for the chances of a COPD-related death. Research suggests that the adverse effects of smoking of lung function, and a resulting diagnosis of chronic lung disease, may be greater in females. This coincides with the fact that less women are pack smokers, yet more women are dealing with the negative side effects of smoking—less smoking is needed for the same dangerous effects in women than men.
Due to a negative stigma that COPD is a smoker’s disease, many people fail to reach out and seek help when they begin to experience symptoms. This can, and may, lead to the large number of individuals who are dealing with undiagnosed COPD. Statistics show that women will COPD are more likely to be hospitalized, which could be a direct result of the gender norm of women being submissive and men being independent, thus men are less likely to reach out for help.
Among sufferers of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who are non-smokers, there is a greater prevalence of women battling lung disease. It has been suggested that the reasoning could be environmental or job-related as women are more likely to be exposed to biomass fuels, which is another risk factor for COPD.
Despite the previous scientific belief that COPD is a disease that targets men, we have found that COPD does not discriminate and women are just as likely, if not more likely, to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. As this month is COPD Awareness Month, it is essential that people of every sex and gender consider how chronic lung disease may affect them and to look for ways to lower their risk of developing COPD. Whether the answer is to quit smoking (it is!), or to get checked by a local pulmonologist, lifestyle modifications could save your life.
If you or a loved one is suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or is concerned that they may have undiagnosed COPD, learn about your options. The Lung Institute now offers alternative treatments that can help bring your life within reach. For more information, contact us or call us at (800) 729-3065.