Take a Breath for Women’s Lung Health Week
- Posted on: May 8 2019
May 12 through the 18 is known as Women’s Lung Health Week. Now, you might be wondering, why would there be a week specifically for women’s lung health, when men suffer from lung ailments as well. Believe it or not, there are some distinct differences in men versus women in terms of lung function.
Importance of Lung Health in Women
According to the Office On Women’s Health, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are two lung diseases that are the most common in women. Unfortunately, the number of women in the United States that are being diagnosed with lung diseases is on the rise. Furthermore, even with the advancement in medical technologies, the number of women that are dying from these diseases continues to increase every year.
Lung Cancer in Men vs. Women
More women now die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer, with tobacco use being the major cause. Then again, 20 percent of women who develop lung cancer have never smoker.
Lung cancer affects women with a greater degree of severity than men. However, from early diagnosis to all stages of of the disease, their chances of survival are higher than men.
Still, with the emphasis of awareness being placed on diseases like breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and even cervical cancer, many women don’t give much thought to lung cancer. That is until it affects them.
The reasons lung cancer is so different in women vs. men are not completely known. On the other hand, early research indicates that the female hormone estrogen could play a key role in the development and progression of the disease in women.
Another big difference in men vs women is that women are more likely to be obese than men. Obesity, or even being overweight, can be detrimental to lung function and health overall.
COPD in Men vs. Women
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is also significantly more common in women. Women are 37 percent more likely to be afflicted by it than men, though it was once considered “a man’s disease” in the United States due to smoking habits amongst men.
Why is it that women are so much more affected by COPD? According to The Lung Institute, “Biological factors and anatomy play a large role in the female risk for COPD. Women usually have smaller lungs than men. Hence, irritants like cigarette smoke or workplace dust and fumes, enter the lungs at a higher concentration. Down the road these substances can cause symptoms of COPD in women.”
Again estrogen is considered a major cause for COPD wreaking havoc on women’s lungs. As The Lung Institute said, “The primary female hormone, estrogen, also contributes to lung damage from smoking or other irritants.”
Other irritants can include harsh cleaning chemicals, pollution, second-hand smoke, and even the gas from a gas stove. Estrogen breaks down these irritants faster than the body can process or expel it, and those irritants can then travel to different parts of the body causing problems along the way.
Additional Gender Differences in Respiratory Function
According to Power Breathe, “Even when the smaller physical size of women is taken into account, their lungs are still smaller than men’s. Women also have narrower airways (breathing tubes), which means it’s harder to move air in and out of the lungs. At rest we breathe around 8-10 litres (2.1-2.6 gallons) of air per minute, but during strenuous exercise a woman can raise this to around 120 litres (31.7 gallons) per minute.
Compare this to an elite male athlete who can breathe as much as 240 litres (63.4 gallons) per minute! Because women are unable to ‘heavy breathe’ as well as men in response to strenuous exercise, research has shown that many women may experience a drop in the amount of oxygen in their blood and a corresponding increase in their breathlessness.”
To make matters worse, women are often underdiagnosed and undertreated for lung cancer, COPD, and other lung diseases. A major reason for this is women wait to long to seek treatment, or even seek a diagnosis. They get so busy taking care of their households and everyone in it, that they don’t take care of themselves.
Preventing Poor Lung Health in Both Sexes
While women are more likely to be afflicted with lung ailments due to anatomy, hormones, weight, and other factors, the reality is both sexes can do more to improve lung function. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, as many issues tend to give the same advice for improving health, they include:
- Exercise regularly: Using your lungs, forcing them to expand and contract, helps to exercise and strengthen them just like the rest of your body
- Eat a healthy diet
- Do breathing exercises
- Stop smoking
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid pollution, dust particles, mold, asbestos and airborne toxins
- Have annual physical exams to test for overall health
Bottom line: Treat your body right, and it will thank you with good health. Treat it badly, and you could suffer the consequences.