Many people believe that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects men. In reality, women are also affected by COPD. In recent decades, more and more women have…
Recent studies have shown that COPD can actually affect women differently than men. Research also shows that women’s lungs may be more sensitive to cigarette smoke. If you’re a woman, it’s important to understand the risks of COPD and how to take care of yourself if you already have COPD.
The relation to cigarettes
Smoking is the biggest risk factor for COPD in both men and women. Because men used to smoke more than women, more men had COPD. But now that women smoke just like men, the facts have changed.
It takes about 20 to 25 years for COPD to develop, and since women generally started smoking later than men, it took a few decades for this to catch up.
Recent research has shown that cigarette smoke can affect women’s lungs differently. Women who smoke like men have more lung damage. One reason for this difference could be that women’s lungs are smaller and simply cannot handle as much smoke as men’s.
Are hormones to blame?
Another reason COPD is worse in women can be hormones. Doctors are beginning to study how women’s hormones can affect how their bodies deal with COPD. At this point in time, there is no definite answer to this question.
More severe symptoms
Women with COPD also tend to have more severe symptoms than men. Women with COPD report more difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and decreased energy than men with the same degree of disease.
This may be because women tend to have other health issues that can affect COPD. For example, the probability of developing osteoporosis is significantly higher in women than in men. Having COPD and osteoporosis at the same time can worsen the symptoms of both diseases.
Another problem for women is that COPD is often misdiagnosed. One study showed that men were more likely to be correctly diagnosed when women and men had the same symptoms, while women were more likely to be diagnosed with asthma. One reason for this difference is that many doctors still assume that COPD is a male disease.
If you’re concerned about COPD, talk to your doctor and get tested. Spirometry to examine your lungs can help determine if you have this condition.
ways to breathe easier
Below you can read how you can protect yourself against COPD and effectively manage the disease if you have COPD:
Know your risk factors. If you are over 35 and have ever smoked you may be at risk. You may also be at risk if you have been exposed to large amounts of smoke or pollution.
Do you know the symptoms? Tell your doctor if you have trouble breathing, coughing up phlegm, or feel less energetic.
Stop smoking. Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but smoking is the #1 risk factor for COPD. And if you have COPD, smoking makes your symptoms worse. Ask for quitting help if you need it.
If you have COPD, take all your medications. You must also participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program.
Get vaccinated against pneumococcus (“pneumonia”) and influenza (annually). How to keep your lungs healthy.
Although more and more women are dying from COPD, the outlook for the disease remains optimistic. Science has made great advances and patients are experiencing a better quality of life. The key is early diagnosis and appropriate treatment.