Why Are Women At A Higher Risk For COPD

Affecting approximately 16.4 million people, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) occurs when not enough air is able to get into your lungs due to restricted airways (via American Lung Association). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of COPD include persistent coughing, an increased amount of mucus, feeling out of breath, and being unable to take a deep breath. Exposure to tobacco smoke, air pollution, and genetics can contribute to COPD, and treatments for the disease may include oxygen therapy, certain medications, and pulmonary rehabilitation.

Early detection and treatment are key when dealing with COPD but the American Lung Association states that many people miss the initial signs and do not realize they have it until the disease is in its late stages. When left untreated, COPD can become incredibly destructive to your health and is one of the top three leading causes of death from a disease in the United States, per the American Lung Association.

While anyone can develop COPD, more women than men have the disease and are more likely to die from it (via Healthline). The reason for this, according to a new study, is due to the difference in their physical stature.

Smaller airways put women at higher risk for COPD

A 2022 study published in the medical journal Radiology has concluded that women are more likely to develop COPD thanks to the fact that their airways are smaller than men's. The study looked at 10,000 people, some who used to smoke, some who currently smoke, and some who have never smoked (via Healthline). Throughout all groups, researchers found that women had thinner, smaller airways than men, which they conclude is the reason why women have less resilience to lung diseases like COPD.

Lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Dr. Surya P. Bhatt, told Healthline, "The differences in airway dimensions even after adjusting for height and lung size, and the greater impact of changes in airway size on clinical outcomes in women, was remarkable in that women appear to have a lower reserve against developing airway disease and COPD."