Women at Greater Risk of COPD

(June 6, 2013)


American Lung Association Report: Women at Greater Risk of COPD


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 Iowa and throughout the United States.

Taking Her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women,” released on June 5, is the latest in the Lung Association’s Disparities in Lung Health Series. It explores how COPD, once thought of as a disease of older white men has become a major and increasing health threat for 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.

In Iowa, 65,928 women currently have COPD, which is 5.4% percent of Iowa’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.”

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.

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.