COPD was considered a male disease, but now it kills more women than men in the United States.
According to the American Lung Association, women account for 58% of the 14.7 million people suffering from the disease in the United States and 53% of those who die.
Nearly 8% of women in the United States reported a diagnosis of COPD, compared with less than 6% of men.
Dr. Han Meilan, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, said: “For women who are not given enough attention, this is a huge public health problem.” “This is one of the biggest killers of women in the country.”
Because COPD is usually associated with men, women are often diagnosed after the disease has progressed.
Symptoms of COPD include chronic cough, wheezing, chest contractions and shortness of breath.
COPD cannot be cured, but its progress may slow down. The most important thing for patients after COPD diagnosis is to quit smoking.
Researchers are largely blamed on the modern rising trend of women’s progressive use of smoking to treat COPD deaths in women.
In the late 19th century, men began to smoke a lot, which is consistent with mass production of cigarettes.
In the 1920s and 1920s, tobacco companies began advertising-targeted women who were attracted to their independence and desire for social and sexual desire.
Another wave of advertising campaigns in the late 1960s and early 1970s triggered a large number of women and girls to start smoking.
Brands like Virginia Slims have used attractive slogans to play a role in women’s liberation movements, including “You have been here for a long time, baby.”
“The effects of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have been delayed for decades and decades,” said Dr. May-Lin Wilgus, an assistant clinical professor of medicine and pulmonary medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“We are seeing the effects of a large number of women smoking, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.”
Gender differences also lead to an increased risk of COPD in women. Research shows that women may be more susceptible to the toxic effects of cigarette smoke than men.
The exact reason is not certain, but researchers believe that one factor is that women’s lungs are usually smaller. Estrogen may also increase smoking-induced lung damage.
COPD is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other conditions that make it difficult for people to push air out of their lungs.
Beyond smoking, factors such as pollution and genetics can contribute to developing the disease.
Women are more likely than men to have flare-ups, or exacerbations, which can be caused by infections or exposure to pollutants. Frequent exacerbations are associated with a faster progression of the disease.
Helena Bravi of Lawrence, Kan., said she has repeatedly gone to the ER since her COPD diagnosis four years ago, even though she is on medication and oxygen.
When her COPD flares up, Bravi said, the pressure builds in her chest and she gets anxious. She tries to avoid triggers such as smoke and aerosols.
“It’s really scary,” she said. “The goal is to get through the day without an exacerbation.”
COPD treatment, which can temporarily improve symptoms and lung function, may include bronchodilators to open the airways, inhalers and steroids, said Han, who is a volunteer spokeswoman for the American Lung Association. In the most severe cases, lung transplants might be needed.
Doctors and advocates say many women are unknowingly living with the disease because they lack of awareness or are reluctant to seek help.
“If they have trouble breathing when they are going up stairs, they may say ‘I’m just a little older or heavier or out of shape,’” said Stephanie Williams, director of community programs for the COPD Foundation, which recently held a webinar about the disease among women. “Women put off treatment longer and they mask their symptoms.”
Inez Shakman, 73, who lives in Ventura, Calif., and sees Dr. Wilgus, said she had problems exhaling for years, and common colds tended to settle in her chest and last longer than expected.
She also found it physically straining sometimes to walk in the park. It was only about four months ago that she learned she had COPD.
She’d never heard of the disease. Now, with medication, she can walk around the park without stopping or gasping for air, she said.
Medical schools have long taught about COPD with a textbook that features images of two men, and researchers have detected gender bias in doctors’ diagnoses of the disease.
In one well-known study, physicians who were presented with hypothetical patients made the correct diagnosis more often for men than for women.