According to a recent health interview survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths in U.S. related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have increased much faster among women than men over the last 20 years, while women were also more likely to receive hospitalization or emergency room care due to COPD.
While experts question if this increase in COPD-related care may be due to the fact that women are more likely to report symptoms and seek professional help when health issues arise, a growing body of research suggests that women may be biologically more susceptible to developing lung-related illness.
According to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, women who smoke may be at a higher risk of developing COPD.
“Smoking-related lung diseases such as [COPD] and lung cancer are growing epidemics in women in the United States and elsewhere,” wrote study authors. “Although some of this disturbing trend in women can be attributed to changing smoking habits, there is emerging evidence that women may be biologically more susceptible to the harmful effects of cigarette smoke than are men.”
Researchers note that “estrogen and related compounds may up-regulate the expression of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes in lungs and liver, which are involved in the metabolism of various constituents of cigarette smoke.” This metabolic process can transform harmless substances, such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon found in cigarette smoke, into toxic chemicals through metabolic bioactivation.
In another study, researchers from Harvard University and the University of Bergen in Norway found that women with COPD were younger when they were diagnosed and had smoked less than men with the chronic lung condition.
To decrease their risk of developing COPD, women should take the following steps:
- Quit smoking. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women who smoke are 13 times more likely to die from COPD than women who do not.
- Avoid secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke can be just as dangerous as smoking itself and should be avoided at all costs.
- Avoid lung irritants. These includedust, air pollution, paint sprays, chemical fumes and other airborne irritants, which can bother your lungs.
Women who are at risk of developing COPD, including those who currently smoke or have smoked in the past, should also ensure that regular lung screenings are a part of their healthcare plan. While there is no cure for COPD, early detection is key to managing the disease.