20 January 2008

Another Reason Not to Smoke, Especially for Women

Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseChronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is increasingly becoming a problem for women, according to the January issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource. The most important risk factor for COPD is long term cigarette smoking.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a broad term that describes any of a group of illnesses that block airflow through the lungs. The most common are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Signs and symptoms of COPD -- persistent cough, increased mucus production, shortness of breath and frequent colds and respiratory problems -- often develop gradually, and people don't realize they have the disease until it's advanced.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. The COPD death rate for women rose much faster between 1980 and 2000 than it did for men. In 2000, the number of women dying of COPD surpassed men for the first time. According to recent research, women with the disease experience more breathlessness, higher rates of depression and lower quality of life than men with the disease -- even those women reported fewer years of smoking than men.

The increase in female rates of COPD likely reflects the increase in the number of female smokers since the 1940s, when advertisers began promoting smoking as a symbol of independence for women.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can be treated, but not cured. The most important treatment is to stop smoking. For smokers with COPD, quitting smoking reduces subsequent loss of lung function by half and cuts the death rate by nearly half. And some better news for women is that those who quit smoking receive twice as great an improvement in lung function as men.