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The New Face of COPD: The Rising Prevalence of COPD in Women

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death in this country, behind only heart disease and cancer. Historically thought of as a man’s disease, it’s only been in recent years that we’ve started to recognize it as something more: a disease devoid of gender bias that, since the year 2000, has killed more women than men each year.

According to the American Lung Association,[1] more than 7 million women in the United States have COPD, while millions more display symptoms but are not yet diagnosed. Since 1980, the death toll among women with COPD has quadrupled; a trend that is expected to continue to rise. To date, women are 37% more likely to have COPD than men and account for more than half of all deaths related to COPD. Why are these statistics so staggering?

An Interplay of Biological and Socio-Cultural Risk Factors

In “Taking Her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women,” the American Lung Association emphasizes that there are important biological and socio-cultural risk factors that contribute to the way women experience the disease. Studies suggest that, compared to men, women are biologically more susceptible to the damaging effects of tobacco smoke and other environmental pollutants. Additionally, they have more frequent disease flare-ups and utilize healthcare resources more often than men. Women are more vulnerable to COPD at a younger age, frequently developing the disease before the age of 65. They also tend to be of lower socioeconomic status and have a harder time quitting smoking than men. Compared to men with similar histories and symptoms, when a woman goes to her doctor complaining of respiratory symptoms, she is less likely to be diagnosed properly with COPD.  Women also suffer from other chronic illnesses more often than men and have a lower, overall quality of life.

Biology is not the only factor that has contributed to the rise of COPD in women. As gender roles began to change in the 1920s, it became more socially acceptable for women to smoke. This, along with aggressive marketing techniques employed by the tobacco industry that specifically targeted women, led to a dramatic increase of women smokers and subsequently an extreme rise in smoking related illnesses as women aged. Sadly enough, the health consequences brought forth by the tobacco boom have yet to be fully realized. To date, new cases of COPD in women continue to surface every day, a trend that is expected to continue, and rise, for many years to come.

The Inogen One Oxygen Concentrator Helps Women with COPD Remain Independent

As more and more women are diagnosed with COPD, the need for supplemental oxygen is likely to increase. Many women, particularly those who are accustomed to an active lifestyle, may be hesitant to use supplemental oxygen thinking that it may interfere with their active lifestyle. Studies suggest however, that long-term oxygen therapy (especially when it’s portable) actually increases social activity. It also improves a person’s perception of their individual health status and allows them to better manage their activities of daily living.[2] The Inogen One portable oxygen concentrator supports a woman’s active lifestyle allowing them to enjoy the summer sun and all it has to offer. If you’re a woman who uses supplemental oxygen, the Inogen One can help ease the burden that COPD has imposed upon you. It is the perfect solution to an otherwise aggravating problem and one that will benefit you for many years to come.


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


[1] American Lung Association. Taking Her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women. June, 2013.
[2] Yohannes, Goldbart J. ‘It is not going to change his life but it has picked him up’: a qualitative study of perspectives on LTOT for people with COPD. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2013 Jul 25;11(1):124. [Epub ahead of print].

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