Harvard Women's Health Watch

COPD rates rise in women

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Decades ago, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was far more prevalent in men than in women. Now, the gender disparity has reversed. Today, women are 37% more likely than men to have COPD—which includes two lung conditions, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Women also account for more than half of COPD deaths each year.

According to a recent report from the American Lung Association, the reason for the switch is the increase in smoking rates among women, which started in the 1960s as tobacco companies began to aggressively target our gender (including the 1968 Virginia Slims "You've Come a Long Way Baby" campaign).

Recent studies have suggested that women are even more susceptible than men to smoking-related lung damage and are also less likely to get an appropriate diagnosis. That may be why nearly half of women with the condition aren't aware they have it. If you're a current or former smoker, your doctor can evaluate your lung function with a test called spirometry. The best way to prevent COPD and other smoking-related diseases is to quit. Ask your health care provider for advice on stop-smoking methods.

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