A new study led by researchers at Lund University, Sweden, showed that women may be at a considerably higher risk than men of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The study, “Incidence of airflow limitation in subjects 65-100 years of age,” was published in The European Respiratory Journal.
“We see a clear increased risk for women contracting COPD compared with the risk for men. And it applies even when other risk factors, such as smoking and age, are taken into consideration,” said Dr. Johannes Luoto, the study’s lead author, a researcher at Lund University and a doctor at the Geriatric clinic of Skåne University Hospital, in a university press release.
Luoto and colleagues followed a group of 2,300 people between the ages of 65 and 100 to assess COPD development. Using a new diagnostic method, the team found that the risk of developing COPD can be twice as high in women compared to men. The findings suggest that the female gender is an independent risk factor for developing COPD.
In previous studies, there was no evidence to suggest a gender difference, partly due to the fact that there are just a few studies examining who is at risk for the condition and because there has been a recent change in COPD diagnosis.
“The few studies that have been done use methods to interpret pulmonary function involving spirometry test criteria which the European and American lung research organizations ERS and ATS now consider outdated and unable to produce reliable results,” Luoto said. “These older methods do not consider the age or sex of the examined subject when interpreting the lung function, even though we know that normal aging effects lung function and suspect that there may be differences between sexes.
“Our study is one of the first that uses more advanced diagnostic criteria, which take into consideration factors such as gender and age before interpretation of the spirometry results and deciding whether you have COPD or not,” he said.
Previous evidence suggested that women’s airways could be more sensitive than men’s, but the outdated diagnostic methods could not show differences with any certainty. Adding to the toll that aging and smoking may represent, researchers using a modern diagnostic method called LNN (lower limit of normal) observed clear disparities between genders regarding the risk of developing COPD.
Luoto cautioned, however, that “researchers and the doctors involved have not yet agreed on the method that is to be used in practice,” and said more studies are needed to compare methods.
COPD is still an incurable disease and one of the world’s most common causes of death, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). The previously established primary risk factors for developing the condition are smoking and air pollution.