More women die today of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than men. Historically, however, medical professionals have failed to identify the causes of COPD in females, and therefore failed to diagnose many female cases of COPD. They mistakenly believed that men smoke more than women, and so they misdiagnosed the disease as something less serious, such as asthma.
But given the increase in female deaths from COPD and the fact that it is now one of the more common female health problems, raising awareness about it among women must occur to prevent further unnecessary loss of life.
Many question, “why has COPD increased in women recently?” Some point to behavioral factors such as smoking during pregnancy. Others point to genetic factors, while still others blame environmental pollution. Examining each of these potential causes of COPD in females may lead to improved methods to treat this disease.
What Are the Causes of COPD in Females?
Many intricately entwined elements account for the recent spike in COPD diagnoses among women. Some of the factors remain under the individual woman’s control while others simply occur due to misfortune.
One risk factor women can control is avoiding tobacco use. Research definitely proves a link between tobacco use and the development of COPD in both men and women.
Indeed, because women have smaller lungs than men do, the risks associated with tobacco use impact women more quickly. Even if the woman herself avoids smoking and other tobacco products, she nevertheless faces a higher risk of contracting COPD from secondhand smoke.
Exposure to toxic fumes either in the workplace or from environmental pollution is another reason for the increase in COPD cases in females. With rising gender equality, more women than ever work industrial and manufacturing jobs, which pay well but expose workers to toxic fumes. Loosening environmental regulations add more contaminants into the air, and this affects women with their smaller lung capacity disproportionately.
Factors women cannot control include age and genetics. Scientists discovered a link between the genetic disorder caused by an alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency and the development of COPD. In addition, as COPD progresses gradually, the older a woman grows, the more likely she is to develop the disease.
Why Has COPD Increased in Women?
Why has COPD increased in women? There are several causes of COPD in females rising in such high amounts recently, such as:
- More Exposure to Hazards at Work
One factor contributing to the rise in female COPD cases relates to a changing economy and world. More women than ever serve as the primary breadwinners in their households. As such, more women seek employment that offers the highest financial payout, even if it puts their health at risk.
- Targeted Tobacco Advertisements
Tobacco advertisers have targeted women in advertising campaigns, leading to a rise in the number of female smokers. Many women continue smoking regardless of the risk factors because they fear potential weight gain when they quit. Female smokers now make up about 200 million of the one billion people worldwide who smoke, and as tobacco use causes COPD, more women today develop this disease.
- Exposure to Environmental Toxins
One frequently overlooked risk factor involves exposure to environmental toxins. When one thinks of environmental causes of lung diseases like COPD, many envision smokestacks pumping filthy emissions into the air. While exposure to smoke can cause COPD, however, so may many of the grooming products women use daily.
On average, women use a total of nine chemically-laden grooming products each and every morning. Because regulations governing the safety of cosmetic products have changed little over the last century, researchers know little about the health complications, including COPD, exposure to these common chemicals may cause.
Most likely, these factors combine to contribute to the skyrocketing reports of new COPD cases among women.
Smoker’s Cough or Something More?
If a woman suspects that she may have COPD, requesting a thorough checkup from a medical professional can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment. Any woman experiencing shortness of breath combined with coughing up mucus and general lung discomfort should seek medical care.
To avoid misdiagnosis, it helps to track symptoms over time so that there is a record to show the doctor regarding the progression of the disease. Because women often get misdiagnosed with asthma when their COPD remains in the early stages, such records help medical professionals examine the possibility that a woman suffers from something more serious.
Testing for COPD
Fortunately, doctors can definitively diagnose COPD in women using lung function tests. Women who suspect they suffer from COPD should request a spirometry exam. Advances in technology make at-home testing via peak flow meter exams possible as well.
Treating COPD in Women
Once a woman receives a diagnosis, her treatment plan must include treating the root causes of her COPD as well as granting her immediate relief. Treatment for smoking cessation must begin immediately if the patient uses tobacco products. In addition, patients carrying a few extra pounds often find losing weight alleviates their condition.
Both short- and long-term bronchodilators open obstructed lung passageways and allow patients to breathe more freely. Pulmonary rehabilitation consisting of gentle exercise, proper nutrition and counseling can change habits and improve treatment outcomes.
Clearing the Airways
While the causes behind the recent increase in episodes of COPD among women vary, the steep increase in instances of this disease should raise alarm. By increasing awareness that COPD doesn’t simply affect men, more women can begin treatment early and return to the road to good health. When all COPD patients receive the treatment they need to combat this disease regardless of gender, we can all breathe a little easier.