Worrying rise in chronic lung disease in women over past decade

August 20, 2000

Recent trends in physician diagnosed COPD in women and men in the UK 2000; 55: 789-94

The rates of chronic lung disease (COPD) in women have almost doubled over the past decade, shows research published in Thorax.

Rates of COPD were audited from data fed into the General Practice Research Database. This contains continuing information on around 4 million patients throughout England and Wales supplied by over 500 general practices.

COPD is a general term to describe chronically obstructed airflow in the delicate airways of the lungs. Some of it is attributable to ageing and the natural decline in lung function, but most of it is caused by the effects of smoking.The symptoms cannot be cured, merely alleviated. Around 3 million people die of it each year, and worldwide, it ranks fifth as the most common cause of death.

From the beginning of January 1990 to the end of 1997, almost half of the 50,000 new cases diagnosed were in women. The yearly prevalence of COPD in women almost doubled from 0.80 per cent to 1.36 per cent over the seven years of the study, reaching the rate observed for men in 1990. There was a substantial increase in rates of COPD in women aged 65 and older; rates in 45 to 65 year old women were equivalent to those in older men by 1996; and the rates in young women under 45 exceeded those of men in the mid-1990s. In men the rate peaked in the mid 1990s.

Patients with severe COPD died an average of three years before those with mild COPD and four years before they would be expected to do so. Women with COPD tended to survive longer than men, irrespective of the severity of their disease.

The authors conclude that the full effects of smoking trends in women have yet to be seen, as evidenced by the steady rise in lung cancer. And they suggest that COPD rates in women will continue to rise.

Dr John Soriano, or Dr Will Maier, Department of Worldwide Epidemiology, Glaxo-Wellcome Research and Development, London. jbs42397@glaxowellcome.co.uk

BMJ Specialty Journals

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