Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a potentially serious and often under-diagnosed respiratory disease caused by smoking and air pollution. Ahead of of World COPD Day on Nov. 15, lung disease specialists are cautioning the public that the disease affects women more quickly and more severely than men.
Although generally little-known to the public, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was the fourth biggest global cause of death in 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), behind ischemic heart disease (nine million people), stroke (six million) and lower respiratory infections (just over 3.2 million).
Mainly caused by smoking -- including passive smoking -- and air pollution (outdoor and indoor), this inflammatory lung condition causes breathing difficulties and blocks airflow from the lungs. It caused around 3.2 million deaths in 2015, a 12 per cent increase since 1990 according to a study carried out across 188 countries by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in the USA.
Shortness of breath is more marked in women
The WHO points out that while in the past, men were more frequently diagnosed with COPD, women are now affected to essentially the same degree. Smoking between five and 10 cigarettes per day is a risk factor for COPD in women, as well as exposure to certain household products, according to recent research.
On average, people with COPD have five additional associated diseases or disorders, affecting various organs and functions, such as metabolic, muscular, cardiac, gastrointestinal and mental function (anxiety, depression). In women, the symptoms of anxiety, depression and shortness of breath are more marked than in men, according to lung disease experts, who are raising awareness about the disease for this year's World COPD Day.
Warning signs include a chronic cough, coughing up mucus and shortness of breath, especially during physical activity. They appear progressively -- sometimes without the patient really noticing -- and get worse over time, especially when resting.
Treatment involves quitting smoking, certain medications (mainly corticosteroids for treating inflammation), regular physical exercise, oxygen therapy in the most severe cases, and avoiding exposure to substances that can lead to the disease (wood or charcoal smoke from cooking, etc.).