BRIDGEWATER, NJ (June 5, 2013) — Women are 37 percent more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than men and now account for more than half of all deaths attributed to COPD in our nation. The American Lung Association’s latest health disparity report, “Taking Her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women,” examines the nation’s third leading cause of death and its increased prevalence among women in New Jersey and throughout the United States.
More than seven million women in the United States currently have COPD, and millions more have symptoms but have yet to be diagnosed. The number of deaths among women from COPD has more than quadrupled since 1980, and since 2000 the disease has claimed the lives of more women than men in this country each year. In New Jersey, 207,480 women currently have COPD, which is 5.8 percent of the state’s population of adult women.
“As a woman, I am particularly aware of the toll that COPD inflicts on women throughout the country, as well as here in New Jersey,” said Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “We are now paying the price for big tobacco’s targeting of women, which became a big focus for them in the 1960s. Of the 344,662 cases of COPD in New Jersey, more than 60 percent of them are women. I encourage everyone to join the American Lung Association and urge government agencies, the research and funding communities, insurers, health systems, employers, clinicians, and women and their families to take action now to address COPD in women.”
COPD is a progressive lung disease with no known cure that slowly robs its sufferers of the ability to draw life-sustaining breath. Only heart disease and cancer kill more Americans than COPD does. Smoking is the primary cause of COPD, but there are other important causes such as air pollution.
“Taking Her Breath Away: The Rise of COPD in Women,” identifies an interplay of risk-factor exposures, biological susceptibility and sociocultural factors contributing to COPD’s disproportionate burden on women.
“My life depends on having clean air to breathe. COPD has already claimed 85 percent of my left lung and I’m not going to let it claim any more,” said Paula Bowman Cummings of Yoe, PA. “My ability to breathe literally depends on the quality of the air. That’s why I support the American Lung Association and its fight to address COPD and women.”
Foremost, the rise of COPD in women is closely tied to the success of tobacco industry marketing. Cigarette smoking was rare among women in the early 20th century, but started increasing in earnest in the late 1960s after the tobacco industry began aggressively targeting its deadly products specifically to women. While nationwide anti-tobacco campaigns and policy changes have successfully decreased smoking rates for both women and men in the recent past, the tobacco industry’s success in addicting women smokers long ago is still resulting in new cases of COPD and other tobacco-related illness in those women as they have aged.
Other key findings include:
• Since COPD has historically been thought of as a “man’s disease,” women are underdiagnosed and undertreated for COPD.
• Women are more vulnerable than men to lung damage from cigarette smoke and other pollutants.
• Women are especially more vulnerable to COPD before the age of 65.
• Women with COPD have more frequent disease flare-ups—a sudden worsening of COPD symptoms that is often caused by a cold or other lung infection.
• Effective treatment of COPD is complicated, and women don’t always get the kind of care that meets their needs.
• The quality of life for women with COPD is impaired at an earlier age, and is worse overall than that of men with similar severity of disease.
The American Lung Association calls on government agencies, the research and funding community, insurers and health systems, employers, clinicians, women and their families to take steps now to address this deadly disease. These steps are detailed in the full report, and include the strengthening of the public health response to COPD including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) creating and supporting a comprehensive COPD program similar to what is already in place for other major public health problems; increased investment in gender-specific COPD research; expanded efforts to protect everyone from harmful exposures that cause COPD such as cigarette smoke and outdoor air pollution; and implementation of health care systems changes to improve the timeliness and quality of COPD care.