COPD Awareness Month: Lung Association Report Shows Women at Greater Risk of COPD

Note to Editors: To download the report visit

Washington, D.C. (November 18, 2013)

Women are 37 percent more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than men and now account for more than half of all deaths attributed to COPD in our nation. The American Lung Association’s health disparity 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 United States. For COPD Awareness Month this November the Lung Association is working to increase awareness of this disease and its impact on 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 since 2000 the disease has claimed the lives of more women than men in this country each year.

“We know that more women than men in this country are now dying from COPD—and nearly half of the women currently living with COPD don’t even know they have it,” said Susan Rappaport, Vice President, Research and Health Education, American Lung Association. “What we do with this knowledge is the important thing, because it will help determine the fate of millions.  To confront this deep-rooted and deadly disease head on, we urgently need leadership in public health and health care at the national, state and local levels.”

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.

The report, first published in June, identifies an interplay of risk-factor exposures, biological susceptibility and sociocultural factors contributing to COPD’s disproportionate burden on women.

Foremost, 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.

“This month we are shining a light on COPD in women, added Rappaport. “For far too long, the enormous impact of COPD on the health of America’s women has been under recognized.  We hope mothers and daughters, husbands and sons will join are effort to curb this terrible disease.”


About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases.  For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: