American Lung Association Report: Women at Greater Risk of COPD

(June 5, 2013)

If asked to name the third leading cause of death in the United States, few would guess chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Fewer still would guess that women are 37 percent more likely to have COPD than men and now account for more than half of all COPD deaths in America.  These are some of the eye-opening findings revealed in the American Lung Association’s latest report, “Taking Her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women,” which examines COPD and its alarming increase among women in the Northeast and throughout the United States.COPD & women

More than seven million women in the United States 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 the disease has claimed the lives of more women than men in this country each year since 2000. 

“COPD, which once was known as a disease that plagues older males, is rapidly rising in the female population” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Our latest report sheds some light on why this disparity exists and what we can do as a nation, as a region and as individuals to help alleviate the burden on COPD patients, their families, and their caregivers.”

COPD is a progressive lung disease, with no known cure, that slowly robs its sufferers of the ability to breathe. Smoking is the primary cause of COPD, but there are other important causes such as air pollution. Only heart disease and cancer kill more Americans than COPD.

"To reduce the number of people affected by COPD, we need to further reduce smoking,” said Ed Miller, Senior Vice President of Public Policy for the American Lung Association of the Northeast.  “Smoking remains the most preventable cause of preventable disease and death and we are working with lawmakers in each state across our region to pass laws and policies to further reduce smoking.

The report identifies a complex interplay of risk-factor exposures, biological susceptibility and sociocultural dynamics working together to increase COPD’s burden on women. Foremost, the rise of COPD in women is closely tied to the success of tobacco industry marketing that targeted women, particularly in the late 1960s. The tobacco industry’s success in addicting women smokers decades ago is still resulting in new cases of COPD and other tobacco-related illness in those women as they have aged. 

The report also offers steps that government agencies, the research community, health systems and many others can take now to address this deadly disease. To download a copy of the report, visit: www.lung.org/copdinwomen.