WEDNESDAY, June 29 (HealthDay News) -- Between 1998 and 2009 there was no significant decline in cases of the often deadly ailment known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the burden of the disease has shifted from men to women, a new report finds.
By 2009, 11.8 million Americans aged 18 and over suffered from the progressive respiratory illness -- about 1 in every 20 adults, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just over 6 percent of women now have COPD, the study found, compared to just over 4 percent of men.
"COPD is now the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer," said lead author Dr. Lara J. Akinbami, a medical officer in the Office of Analysis and Epidemiology at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. COPD "has replaced stroke, which was the third leading cause of death," she said. "That is mainly because stroke has dramatically declined."
The new report also finds COPD disproportionately affecting the poor and smokers. The latter finding is not surprising, since smoking is a prime risk factor for COPD.
COPD, which generally consists of chronic bronchitis or emphysema, is a progressive disease that causes increasing damage to the lungs, making breathing difficult. Most COPD is caused by chronic exposure to lung irritants such as cigarette smoke, but it can also be caused by long-term exposure to other environmental toxins.
The relative increase of COPD among women is largely due to more women taking up smoking in the 1970s and 1980s, Akinbami believes. These women are only now entering a time when the symptoms of COPD start to appear.
Akinbami hopes that with fewer people smoking today vs. decades past, there will be fewer cases of COPD in the future. In that sense, COPD largely is a preventable condition, she said.
In addition to smoking, other envir
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