Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that consists of a group of several diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. COPD affects over 16 million Americans and is the third leading cause of death in the United States, surpassed only by cancer and heart disease. While COPD was traditionally thought of as a “man’s disease,” the profile of COPD has changed in recent decades.
The number of deaths among women from COPD has more than quadrupled since 1980. Today more than 7 million women in the United States have been diagnosed with COPD. Millions more are experiencing symptoms but have yet to be diagnosed. In this brief article, Ravikanth Vydyula, M.D., a lung specialist in Tampa, discusses what is contributing to the rise of COPD in women, how women experience the disease differently than men, and what treatment options are available if you or a loved one is suffering from COPD.
Potentially the most important factor contributing to the rise of COPD in women is the shift in smoking patterns. According to the American Lung Association, approximately 85 to 90 percent of all COPD cases can be linked to cigarette smoke as the toxins produced by cigarettes narrow your airways, cause swelling in air tubes, destroy air sacs, and weaken your lungs’ defense against infections.
While cigarette smoking was once fairly uncommon among women, increased targeted advertisements in the late 1960’s drastically increased the percentage of American women who smoked. Due to the fact that female airways and lungs are generally smaller than their male counterparts, cigarette smoke and other lung irritants are more concentrated and more likely to cause significant damage to women’s lungs when inhaled.
COPD presents itself in both men and women with respiratory symptoms, such as chronic cough, respiratory infections, fatigue, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The disease can place a heavy burden on the affected individual and their family due to costly medical expenses and loss of productivity. Women are more negatively impacted by COPD, first and foremost, because their quality of life is impaired at an earlier age and with worse severity overall than that of men.
Not only do they experience more complications resulting from shortness of breath, but women are more likely to have disease flare-ups that result in a greater chance of disability and death from the loss of breathing ability. Additionally, women often present different symptoms of COPD than men, such as anxiety and depression. This can make it very difficult for women to seek help, follow a treatment plan, and receive the emotional support they need.
Related: How to Manage Your COPD
A proper diagnosis is the first step in treating women for COPD. Many women are diagnosed with asthma rather than COPD because the doctor misses valuable indicators of COPD, such as physical symptoms or history of exposure to risk factors. Women are also less likely to receive a spirometry — a valuable breathing test highly recommended to diagnose COPD. If you believe you or a loved one may be suffering from COPD, it’s important to be armed with this knowledge before scheduling an appointment so that you can relay the relevant information regarding your condition to your doctor.
If you have already received your diagnosis, it’s time to partner with a lung doctor in Tampa who specializes in the treatment of COPD and can help you to develop a treatment plan. Treatment options can range from COPD medications and supplemental oxygen to pulmonary rehabilitation and surgery. Ravikanth Vydyula, M.D., will tailor your treatment to meet your specific needs and concerns and make sure you are being provided with the interpersonal connection and social support you need to live with COPD. You don’t have to manage your condition alone. For more information, schedule an appointment today.
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