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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 February, 2004, 01:07 GMT
Women harder hit by chronic cough
Chronic cough can be a disabling illness
A chronic cough tends to have a more profound effect on women than men, research suggests.

Severe symptoms such as headache, painful breathing, nausea and urinary incontinence were more common among women.

Women also tended to be more embarrassed than men about negative social responses to their cough.

The study, by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is published in the journal Chest.

The researchers found that more women than men seek medical care for chronic cough.

They compared data on 116 women and 56 men who were undergoing medical care for chronic cough with that on a control group of 31 smokers who coughed a lot, but who had not sought medical care.

Not only did significantly more women than men report physical symptoms associated with their cough, they were also more likely to register associated social problems.

These included embarrassment, family rows and upset caused by the response of other people.

No obvious explanation

Professor Andrew Peacock, director of communications at the British Thoracic Society, told BBC News Online: "I can think of no physiological reason why chronic cough should have more of an impact on women than men.

"We might be in the realms of psychology, rather than medicine. Symptoms such as nausea tend to be subjective, and difficult to ascribe to any physical differences between the sexes."

Chronic cough is sometimes a sign of a serious underlying illness such as lung cancer, heart failure or tuberculosis.

However, it can often be a relatively trivial condition linked to secretion of mucus from the rear of the nasal cavity into the throat.

It can also be triggered by asthma, and by a condition called gastro-oesophageal reflux, which occurs when the valve at the top of the stomach is weak, and food leaks back into the food pipe.

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