Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an obstruction of airflow in the lungs. This obstruction is a progressive one, and needs to be managed well in time. Recent studies have shown that the number of women affected by COPD is increasing and since 2000, the number of women dying from this disease has surpassed that of men. There is gender bias that has been observed in this disease. The manifestation of the disease in women is different than that seen in men.
Gender Bias in COPD
It comprises chronic bronchitis, chronic asthma, and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis is a cough that generates sputum for a period of three months or more. Chronic asthma is caused due to untreated asthma that causes an inflammation that obstructs the airway of the lungs permanently, causing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These patients have an abnormal airflow between attacks of asthma as well. Emphysema is an enlargement of the air spaces known as the alveoli of the lungs. The alveolar walls are damaged as well.
The expression of this disorder is different in men. There are a few points of differences that we shall discuss to understand why the disease affects more women than men. It is observed that women with COPD have an airway obstruction of the lungs, whereas men mostly show emphysema that is enlargement of air spaces. This difference is speculated to be the difference in the basic genetic make of males and females, and also to differences in exposure. It is also observed that once affected with COPD, the progression of this condition is rapid in women, when compared to the progression in men. Studies are being carried out to understand the underlying cause for this gender difference in disease manifestation.
The symptoms of COPD are divided into stages. Following table gives the signs observed in men as well as women.
|Stage of COPD||Symptoms|
|Mild||Shortness of breath and cough|
|Moderate||Moderate to severe shortness of breath, cough, and dyspnea|
|Severe||Limited airflow, weight loss, extreme fatigue, loss of mental and physical activities|
|Very Severe||More frequent coughing, and increased mucus and phlegm production. Also, eating food, a routine activity, becomes difficult.|
The symptoms may also differ according to the cause of the disease. In case of emphysema, wheezing, tightness in the chest is observed. Chronic bronchitis presents symptoms like, chronic cough along with yellow sputum that can last for as long as two years. Chronic asthma causes regular wheezing, shortness of breath, and vulnerability to lung infections.
Once the lungs are damaged, the change is irreversible. Disease management is the sole mode of treatment given. Bronchodilators are used to relax the muscles of the lungs. These may vary according to the patient's condition. Glucocorticosteroids are also prescribed to patients who have severe inflammation. These may, however, have side effects. Pneumococcal vaccines and influenza vaccines are also given to these patients, as they are prone to lung infections.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a therapy provided to patients of COPD. There are exercise programs designed for these patients known as breathing exercises. Along with this, the diets of patients are also changed to improve their quality of life. It is also important for patients to quit smoking. The life expectancy for this condition will vary according to the treatment and the way of life of the patients.
COPD prognosis made by doctors suggests that, the conditions of the disease varies with the quality of life and also, the stage in which, it is treated. A healthy lifestyle will definitely benefit in managing the condition well.