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Prim Care Respir J. 2011 Dec;20(4):370-8. doi: 10.4104/pcrj.2011.00070.

Reconsidering sex-based stereotypes of COPD.

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Section on Pulmonary, Critical Care, Allergy and Immunologic Diseases, Wake Forest University Health Sciences, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston Salem, NC 27157, USA.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has historically been considered a disease of older, white, male smokers, as illustrated in Frank Netter's classic images of the 'pink puffer' and 'blue bloater'. However, women may be more susceptible to COPD than men, and the disease course may be reflective of that increased susceptibility. From a review of epidemiological data of COPD, we found differences in the way men and women present with COPD symptoms, a bias in the way COPD symptoms are treated in men and women, and differences in susceptibility to airway obstruction based on age, sex, and smoking history. These data show that classic stereotypes of COPD - including male predominance - should be abandoned, and that there are not two but multiple COPD phenotypes, which are characterised by differences between women and men in susceptibility, symptoms, and disease progression. These differences impact on physician perception. Although further research into this concept is needed, the differences we found should prompt, in the short term, changes in the way (and in whom) COPD is evaluated, diagnosed, and treated; in the long term, these differences should prompt research into the prognosis of COPD based on sex differences.

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