COPD is a disease characterized by increasing breathlessness and includes the diseases of emphysema, chronic bronchitis and refractory, or non-reversible, asthma. It is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. and was once thought to be an “older” person disease primarily among men. During COPD Awareness Month in November, it is important to understand this disease and how it may affect your life. Although COPD affects both men and women, a new study has found that age-associated gender differences are seen in this disease and younger women seem to be more burdened by the effects.
Researchers drew 4484 participants from the Genetic Epidemiology of COPD study which looks at the genetic factors in COPD, according to the article. The individuals in this study were between 45 and 80 years and were both current and former smokers with at least 10 pack-years of cigarette smoking. Pack-years are determined by multiplying the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of years the person smoked. Of the participants 2522 individuals were under 65 years of age. The researchers used the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) guidelines which looks at three factors: symptoms, exacerbation risk, and airflow limitation severity.
Gender associations were more pronounced among younger women, although older women 65 years or older were “still more likely to experience dyspnea and present with more severe COPD than older men.” Women overall “are more significantly burdened by the symptoms of COPD than men.”
When it came to women and COPD symptoms, researchers found:
– Younger women with COPD had higher odds of reporting severe dyspnea compared with younger men with COPD. But older women also reported more severe dyspnea than older men.
– Younger women had higher odds for exacerbation risk (a worsening) compared to younger men.
– Younger women also had higher odds of having more severe airflow limitations compared to younger men.
– Despite lower pack-years of smoking, younger women had higher odds of being classified with worse GOLD classifications compared to younger men.
At the moment researchers don’t have the answers as to why younger women seem to have more severe COPD symptoms and more studies are necessary. However, several factors were not mentioned in the study which could have impacted the outcomes. Smoking while young causes the lungs to never fully develop. While the youngest participants in the study were 45 and had at least 10 pack-years of smoking, it does not mention when these participants actually started smoking. Women’s lungs also tend to be smaller than men’s, making them more likely to suffer lung damage from smoking at a younger age. Researchers know smoking can effect a women’s hormones, but could this change in hormone levels also be worsening the symptoms of COPD?
There are so many questions that still need to be answered regarding COPD, but we know that smoking causes 80% of COPD cases. COPD has no known cure, but quitting smoking will improve your overall health and prevent symptoms from getting worse. Talk to your doctor about programs and ways to help you quit.