Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, has long been considered a disease that affects older white men. But, as gender roles and smoking behaviors have changed over the years, the number of deaths and older women being affected has more than quadrupled from 1980 to the year 2000. Since then, COPD has become a serious danger for elderly women.
The Added Danger for Elderly Women
There is no denying that women are biologically different than men. And apparently, these differences make women more susceptible to lung damage caused by tobacco smoke and environmental pollutants. Women tend to get #COPD at an earlier age than men and are less likely to be properly diagnosed. Click To TweetAccording to the American Lung Association, in 2009, over 70,000 women suffered the long death COPD brings.
COPD is a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe because the flow in and out of the lungs is greatly reduced. COPD can cause chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Women living with COPD tend to have more disease flare-ups than men, and suffer other co-occurring conditions like depression and also tend to have a lower overall quality of life.
Causes of COPD in Elderly Women
There are numerous factors that lead to COPD. Smoking and pollution are the major causes of COPD in women.
- Tobacco: Inhaling smoke–whether directly or second hand, cigarette smoke has been established as the primary cause of COPD. After the tobacco industry began advertising to women in the 1920’s as a way to lose weight, the number of female smokers skyrocketed.
- Environmental Issues: Exposure to environmental pollutants is another factor that puts women at risk for COPD. In fact, women are more than 1.5 times more likely to get lung damage from air pollution and other environmental elements such as pollen, animal dander, bacteria, and air pollution.
- Biological Differences: As mentioned above, biological differences between men and women also play a part in the rise of danger for elderly women and COPD. Recent studies have shown that women are just more susceptible to COPD because of their anatomy and physiology. Female lungs are smaller than men’s, and their narrower airways and heart muscle, the concentration of lung irritants is higher in women, putting them at higher risk of infections and exposure to damaging toxins.
COPD Management & Treatment
While there is no cure for COPD in elderly women, there are ways to treat and manage symptoms. There are many different options such as the use of a bronchodilator, protein therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy or surgery. Make sure to be treated by a healthcare professional and practice self-care, too. Staying out of crowds, staying current on vaccines, and practicing good nutrition and hygiene are all ways to help manage and prevent a COPD flare-up.
Recognizing Warning Signs
Unfortunately, COPD is often not diagnosed until the disease is very advanced. Women need to pay attention to early warning signs such as shortness of breath, inability to keep up, chronic coughing, wheezing and tightness in the chest, or loss of appetite and weight loss and contact your doctor to express your concerns.
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