Women are 37 percent more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than men, a new study from the American Lung Association indicates.
The report, “Taking her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women,” said 58 percent of the 14.7 million people diagnosed with COPD — what was once considered an older male’s disease — in the United States are women. In New York state, there are nearly 513,000 cases of the disease among women and 371,000 cases among men.
According to the study, authored by Grace Koppel, COPD Foundation board member, there are two anatomical differences between men and women that make women more susceptible to the disease, which causes airflow obstruction and breathing-related problems.
“Female lungs are smaller than men’s, with narrower airways and less respiratory muscle to power inhaling and exhaling. As a result, the concentration of cigarette smoke and other lung irritants is higher within the lung airways of women when inhaled. Studies have also found that female smokers inhale deeper and hold their breath for a longer time than male smokers,” the report said. “Estrogen increases the rate at which nicotine is broken down in the body, but it does not increase the rate that the body gets rid of these harmful compounds. As one continues to smoke, the harmful compounds build up in the lung more for women, causing stress to the lung and damage to the organ.”
Dr. Michael Gough, a pulmonologist at Kenmore Mercy Hospital, said cigarettes are the No. 1 risk factor for developing COPD. Other risk factors include environmental toxins and a person’s genetics, age and overall health status.
“In New York, the American Lung Association is calling on the legislature to provide more comprehensive cessation coverage, to fund the state’s tobacco control program at or above the CDC-recommended level, and to expand New Yorkers’ access to smokefree spaces,” a news release from the ALA said.