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Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 01:23 GMT 02:23 UK
'More women suffer lung disease'
Lung function test
Serious lung disease can be debilitating
The rate of chronic lung disease in women has almost doubled over the past decade, say researchers.

They put the rise down to the long-term effects of smoking.

The researchers, led by a team from Glaxo Wellcome, studied data on about four million patients supplied by more than 500 general practices across England and Wales.

They found that between 1990 and 1997, almost half of the 50,000 new cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) diagnosed were in women.

In the seven years of the study the prevalence of the disease almost doubled for women - reaching the rate observed for men in 1990.

What we are probably seeing is the effect of differences in when men and women took up smoking

Dr Will Maier, Glaxo Wellcome Research and Development

The increase was particularly sharp in women aged 65 and over.

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 world-wide, it ranks fifth as the most common cause of death.

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.

Full effects still to come

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.

They suggest that COPD rates in women will continue to rise.

Many of these women are innocent victims of the tobacco industry's sordid denials of the health effects of smoking

Dr Melissa Hack, British Thoracic Society

Researcher Dr Will Maier told BBC News Online: "What we are probably seeing is the effect of differences in when men and women took up smoking.

"When cigarettes first became widely available more men smoked, so they developed more respiratory disease, but since then more women have also started to smoke.

"People who quit smoking have a better chance of not getting COPD, and will also do better if they do develop the disease."

Dr Maier said that COPD was often poorly diagnosed by doctors, and therefore was not managed in the correct way.

Dr Melissa Hack, of British Thoracic Society (BTS), agreed that the increase in COPD among women was probably a result of smoking patterns in the 1950s and 60s.

She said: "Many of these women are innocent victims of the tobacco industry's sordid denials of the health effects of smoking.

"It is worrying that the number of teenage girls smoking is still too high. They are the lung disease patients of tomorrow.

"The government must redouble its efforts to reduce tobacco use in teenagers."

Dr Mike Morgan, Chairman of the British Lung Foundation's Breathe Easy Group, said: "COPD is not only a killer, but a debilitating disease, that severely affects the quality of life of those suffering from the condition.

"It also heavily impacts on the lives of those caring for, and supporting, them."

The research is published in the journal Thorax.

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