November is National COPD Awareness Month. COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It refers to both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both diseases are marked by shortness of breath and chronic cough.
COPD has no known cure. It is third after heart disease and cancer for causing U.S. deaths.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 12 million U.S. adults have a diagnosis of COPD, with 120,000 deaths annually. There may be as many as 12 million adults who have not yet been diagnosed.
More women are now dying from COPD than men every year. More than 7 million women have COPD. Millions are not yet diagnosed.
According to the American Lung Association women are more likely by 37 percent than men to have COPD. Half of the deaths from COPD happen to women.
The number of women's deaths from COPD is more than four times what it was in 1980. Since 2000 more women than men have been dying from COPD.
The American Lung Association and ADVANCE for Respiratory Care and Sleep Medicine hosted a webinar "Taking Her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women," on World COPD Day, Nov. 19, 2014.
Guest speaker was Dr. MeiLan Han, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at the University of Michigan, and report contributor.
Han said that women with COPD have 1 million emergency department visits, 9 million doctors' office visits, 100 million disability days, costing $10 billion in medical care every year. About 15 percent of COPD deaths are caused by harmful work exposures, she said.
Women's lungs and airways are smaller than men's, and we have less respiratory muscle. Women are more at risk than men for lung damage from cigarette smoke and other pollutants. They have more flare-ups from colds or other lung infections.
Due in part to gender bias in diagnosis, Han said, women are underdiagnosed and undertreated. Women's COPD is most commonly misdiagnosed as asthma.
Spirometry is underutilized, Han said. A spirometry test is done in the doctor's office on lungs, to evaluate how much you inhale, how much and how quickly you inhale.