Gender Differences in COPD: Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus

Gender Differences: How COPD Differs between Men and Women

Th differences in COPD between men and women were reviewed recently in the International Journal of COPD (http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/COPD.S54476) by Aryal and colleagues.  It is interesting to note  that cigarette smoking peaked during the 1970s among men and during the 1980s among women. In developing countries, smoking among women is expected to increase by 20% by the year 2025.
Man and woman smoking a igarettte

Man and woman smoking a igarettte

Women appear more susceptible to tobacco smoke as they develop more severe COPD at younger ages than men despite lower levels of smoking. Why? One reason is that women have smaller lungs and airways (breathing tubes) than men, and therefore the same amount of cigarette smoking results in greater damage. Other difference are:  men are more likely to be diagnosed as having COPD while women are more likely to be diagnosed as having asthma; men tend to have more heart disease, alcoholism, and cancer in addition to their COPD, whereas women tend to experience more depression, anxiety, and osteoporosis (thinning of bones); and infections involving the upper respiratory tract (nose, throat, and sinuses) are generally more common in women who have COPD, while lower respiratory infections (bronchitis and pneumonia) are more common in men with COPD. Overall, women who have COPD are more likely to report shortness of breath, and less likely to report coughing up mucous compared with men. Since the year 2000, more women have died from COPD than men (see graph on right), and unfortunately the death rate in women is predicted to continue to rise.
David Mannino, M.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health at the University of Kentucky, is senior author of the article.

David Mannino, M.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Environmental Health at the University of Kentucky, is senior author of the article.

The authors, led by Dr. David Mannino (photo on left), concluded that differences between men and women who have COPD are likely due to both genetic factors (inherited from parents) and features of the environment (exposure to irritants in the air at work and life style).    

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.