Where there’s smoke, there’s COPD

When asked to picture typical sufferers of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), most people would think of white men, as they have historically smoked at higher rates than other groups. Alarmingly, though, the American Lung Association recently reported that profile is changing: American women are 37 percent more likely to have COPD than men and now account for more than half of all deaths attributed to COPD in the country.

COPD sufferers increasingly are women.
COPD sufferers increasingly are women.

Part of the ALA’s Disparities in Lung Health Series, this latest report, titled “Taking Her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women,” states that more than seven million women in the U.S. currently have COPD, and millions more have symptoms but have yet to be diagnosed. The number of deaths among women from COPD has more than quadrupled since 1980, and since 2000 the disease has claimed the lives of more women than men in the nation each year.

According to a press release from the Iowa chapter of the ALA, In Iowa 65,928 women currently have COPD, which is 5.4 percent of the state’s population.

“Considering COPD has recently moved from the fourth to the third leading cause of death in the U.S., it is troubling that the disease is still largely overlooked or omitted from the public health system’s planning and programs,” said Micki Sandquist, executive director for the American Lung Association in Iowa. “This report brings to the forefront the significance of COPD education. Can you believe that nearly half of women currently living with COPD don’t even know they have it? Knowledge is power.”

According to the news release about the report, COPD is a progressive lung disease with no known cure that slowly robs its sufferers of the ability to draw life-sustaining breath. Only heart disease and cancer kill more Americans than COPD does. Smoking is the primary cause of COPD, but there are other important causes such as air pollution.

To address this deadly disease, the ALA recommends action including strengthening the public health response to COPD including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) creating and supporting a comprehensive COPD program similar to what is already in place for other major public health problems; increasing the investment in gender-specific COPD research; expanding efforts to protect everyone from harmful exposures that cause COPD such as cigarette smoke and outdoor air pollution; and implementing health care systems changes to improve the timeliness and quality of COPD care.

Do you know victims of COPD? Are the women in your life smoking?

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