Overall, COPD is now the third leading cause of death in the United States, trailing closely behind heart disease and cancer. A startling and increasing number of women have been dying from this disease, the numbers quadrupling over the last 30 years. Since 2000 more women than men have been dying from COPD.
Why are so many more women dying from COPD than men of the same age?
For one thing, COPD is one of those diseases that can be severely misdiagnosed, or completely overlooked until much later, when it has finally become obvious. You might not even suspect that anything is wrong, until it has progressed into the severe stage. After you've been diagnosed, you may have already been walking around with it for years.
It's been shown that many women who have been diagnosed with end stage COPD, were wrongly diagnosed with asthma many years before, and proper treatment was not given. Asthma is also a chronic lung disease that can cause a low blood oxygen reading during an ongoing exacerbation.
COPD can even be treated with the same kinds of medicine as asthma, but over time, if the inability to bring in enough oxygen to the blood stream is not addressed with the treatment needed for COPD, it will only continue to get worse. Smoking cigarettes are also more likely to continue if they think it is only asthma, because asthma is not as life threatening as COPD, as long as it is under control.
A recent study also showed that women often have higher stress levels, and are more likely to continue smoking because of high stress and anxiety levels. Continuing smoking will always ensure that the disease progresses.
How can I make sure I'm properly diagnosed?
If you have some of the symptoms of mild to moderate COPD – excessive mucous production in the lungs that lasts for over a month, and a very productive cough that lasts for over a month – you should tell your doctor what is going on, and request to be tested for COPD. Testing for COPD or asthma involves three types of tests – an arterial blood gas (AGB) test, a spirometry test (a computer that reads your lung function by having you exhale and inhale into a mouth piece), and lung x-rays.
If you have been diagnosed with asthma, it's in your best interest to get a second opinion. If the next doctor gives you the same diagnosis, you can feel more assured that you do indeed have asthma. You will to to keep an eye on how you feel over the next few months. If you feel you are still getting worse, go back to the doctor.
You will also need to be quit smoking as soon as possible, even if you are only diagnosed with asthma. Your condition will get worse if you continue to smoke, but if you quit, you can count on your lung function to slowly start to improve.