Greater awareness within the healthcare community is needed regarding the increasing burden of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in women, researchers reported in Chest.

The prevalence of COPD globally is increasing more rapidly in women than in men, and the number of COPD-related deaths in women surpasses those in men in some low-and middle-income countries, according to Christine R. Jenkins, MD, from the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia, and colleagues. The factors that contribute to the increase in COPD in women include

  • Smoking
  • Biomass fuel exposure
  • Occupational exposure
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Respiratory infections
  • Hyperresponsiveness

COPD risk factors that are most commonly experienced by women are not identical to those in men. For example, biomass fuel exposure near the home affects women more than men due to the greater exposure of women cooking and performing domestic responsibilities worldwide.

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Women and men also experience biological differences, which could result in different diagnoses of COPD. For example, women are more likely to exhibit small airway disease (bronchiolitis) and have smaller lumina than men. Women can experience more severe exacerbations and higher levels of dyspnea. These higher levels of exacerbations in women may contribute to the overall higher death rate in women diagnosed with COPD in some countries. The risk of first exacerbation was higher for women compared with men (hazard ratio, 1.31).  

Treating women with COPD involves a range of interventions, both pharmacological and nonpharmacological. They include:

  • Smoking cessation
  • High-dose inhaled corticosteroids
  • A multidisciplinary rehabilitation program that includes exercise, nutritional counseling, and patient education

Overall, the researchers suggest that healthcare providers increase levels of awareness of COPD in women and implement more successful strategies for the prevention and treatment of COPD in women. 


  1. Jenkins CR, Chapman KR, Donohue JF, et al. Improving the management of COPD in women. Chest. 17 October 2016.