WECARE for Women
WECARE | Women Empowered through COPD Awareness and Respiratory health Education
While typically regarded as a “men’s disease,” chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is steadily affecting more and more women each year. Women are often misdiagnosed or diagnosed in the later stages of COPD because of this association as a men’s disease. Women are also less likely to have a spirometry test to confirm COPD. This lack of recognition of COPD signs and symptoms among women allows the disease to progress and worsen.
In an effort to spotlight this important health issue, Respiratory Health Association received funding from the Learn More Breathe Better ® program to develop a public awareness campaign to bring greater visibility to women affected by COPD. Together we can #EmpowHerCOPD.
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The Rise of COPD Among Women
COPD is the sixth leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States. It affects 6.2% or 16 million adults over the age of 18. The prevalence among males is 5.2% compared to 6.4% for females. Research studies suggest COPD prevalence in women will continue to increase in the coming years. Not only will COPD affect more women, but they will also experience COPD differently. Women report more severe symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue and at an earlier age. Women also experience more frequent bouts of anxiety and depression leading to an overall lower quality of life.
Studies show that women may also be more susceptible to the health harms from tobacco smoke. Women who smoke show worse lung function than men who also partake. To make things even more complicated, women have a harder time quitting than men. Additionally, women make up the largest group of patients among non-smokers who are living with COPD.
COPD is a serious lung disease, but the good news is there are steps women can take to better manage their illness. The best thing anybody can do for their COPD is to quit smoking. Once a person quits smoking, their blood pressure and pulse rate immediately begin to return to normal levels. After a few days the bronchial tubes relax, and nerve endings begin to regrow. In the months to years after quitting, people can expect to see a decrease in coughing and a lowered risk of developing heart disease.
Communication with healthcare providers is essential in managing COPD. It’s important to share symptoms, concerns, and updates with a healthcare team. The more information they have, the better they can help develop a management plan to help people be the healthiest versions of themselves.
Healthcare providers, especially primary care providers, are uniquely positioned to help women who may be at risk for COPD to get a better grasp on their disease. Many patients who may be living with an undiagnosed case of COPD do not tell their healthcare provider about their symptoms. From 2009 to 2018, about 30% of patients who saw their provider did not discuss their symptoms. Reasons range from not thinking about it, thinking the symptoms would resolve over time, or that the symptoms were not new. Among the group of patients who did talk to their doctor about their symptoms, about 53% received a prescription, 30% took a spirometry test, and 29% reported talking about their smoking history.
The patient-provider communication gap poses a significant issue in addressing COPD concerns. It’s important to not make patients feel judged about their health status. Communication should focus on problem-solving and removing the blame from the patient.
The WECARE campaign is generously supported with funding from the Learn More Breathe Better ® program of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.