New American Lung Association report focuses on COPD risks for women

A new study by the American Lung Association will undoubtedly get the attention of women who otherwise may not pay much attention to COPD issues.

According to the study, women are 37 percent more likely to have COPD than men, and half of them don’t even know they have it, according to a new American Lung Association Report. “Taking Her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women” examines the nation’s third leading cause of death and its increased prevalence among women in the U.S.

More than seven million women in the United States currently have COPD, compared to six million men. 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 this country each year.

The report also looks at other correlating issues, including industry marketing and lifestyle choices.

According to the report, the rise of COPD in women is closely tied to the success of tobacco industry marketing. Cigarette smoking was rare among women in the early 20th century, but started increasing in earnest in the late 1960s after the tobacco industry began aggressively targeting its deadly products specifically to women. While nationwide anti-tobacco campaigns and policy changes have successfully decreased smoking rates for both women and men in the recent past, the tobacco industry’s success in addicting women smokers long ago is still resulting in new cases of COPD and other tobacco-related illness in those women as they have aged.

Other important findings in the report include:

  • Since COPD has historically been thought of as a “man’s disease,” women are underdiagnosed and undertreated for COPD.
  • Women are more vulnerable than men to lung damage from cigarette smoke and other pollutants.
  • Women are especially more vulnerable to COPD before the age of 65.
  • Women with COPD have more frequent disease flare-ups—a sudden worsening of COPD symptoms that is often caused by a cold or other lung infection.
  • Effective treatment of COPD is complicated, and women don’t always get the kind of care that meets their needs.
  • The quality of life for women with COPD is impaired at an earlier age, and is worse overall than that of men with similar severity of disease.

It is important that government agencies, the funding community, insurers, health systems, employers, clinicians, women and their families take steps to address this deadly disease.

To download the report, visit


Mary Kurth, COPD Program Director of the American Lung Association in Arizona

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