Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic lung condition. Subphenotypes or characteristics of COPD are both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. A person can have one, the other or both but normally one condition will present as the strongest element of the condition, COPD.
Cigarette smoking has been linked to COPD but is not the only leading cause of the condition. Approximately 25 percent of individuals with COPD have never smoked cigarettes. Causes of COPD have been linked to secondhand smoke, harmful workplace exposure to toxins or chemicals and outdoor air pollution. History of asthma can also lead to COPD.
Symptoms of COPD in females may appear differently from males. Women may experience more respiratory flare-ups in particular, because female lung and airways tend to be smaller in size. Advancing symptoms of COPD can be caused by a cold or other lung infection. Flare-ups or short periods of recurring illness requires urgent care. The risk in loss of breathing ability and long-term disability, increases with each flare-up. To confirm a diagnosis of COPD, a breathing test called spirometry must be performed. In female COPD cases, primary care practices are less likely to give women a spirometry test. The spirometry test will eliminate any improper diagnoses of COPD or it will identify the condition in the person tested. The spirometry test measures lung function which is why this test is crucial in the beginning stages of COPD treatment.
Women with COPD may experience dyspnea symptoms like shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Females may produce cough or sputum (phlegm) symptoms. And although women participate and have been making economic gains in the workforce, individuals who cook may be exposed to biomass fuel. The smoke from biomass fuel can have severely impact lung function. Moreover, biomass fuel may also be present in the workplace.
Anxiety and depression impact women living with COPD. And less than one third of patients with anxiety and or depression receiving appropriate and quality treatment. The likelihood of respiratory flare-ups increase as anxiety and depression worsens in the person with COPD.
The under-diagnosis and misdiagnosis of COPD in women have been related to the female bodies small airways, exposure to biomass fuel and the social stigma around COPD being a male-specific health condition.
There is not currently a cure for COPD; however, clinical research and development continue to further COPD treatment in order to decline symptoms of the condition and overall lung function.
Caregivers understand and see the daily symptoms and feelings associated of living with COPD. Nearly 65 million caregivers nationwide work to provide individuals and families with around the clock care. The most valuable tool to a caregiver is understanding the condition which affects the person they are working with and helping. Support groups and caregiver companies serve to advise people who are caregivers.
COPD is one of the leading causes of death in America. Women’s healthcare advocacy groups and women living with COPD must share their experience of the condition impacting their lives. Research into COPD including women did not begin until the mid-1990s. There is much to be discovered about COPD gender differences, and how the condition impacts the female body and medication's action throughout the body.
Kunzmann, Kevin. “What Drives COPD in Women?” MD Magazine, 21 Oct. 2019, https://www.mdmag.com/medical-news/what-drives-copd-in-women.
“Taking Her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women.” American Lung Association, https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/research/lung-health-disparities/the-rise-of-copd-in-women.html.