Female smokers get sicker at a younger age than their male counterparts, according to a new study that looked at the lung damage caused by smoking.
Reuters reported May 18 that the study, led by researcher Inga-Cecilie Soerheim of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the University of Bergen in Norway, looked at 954 men and women with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The research concluded that while both genders had similar lung problems due to smoking, women under age 60 had worse disease and lung function than men.
“This means that female smokers in our study experienced reduced lung function at a lower level of smoking exposure and at an earlier age than men,” Soerheim said.
Women may be at risk even if they don’t smoke heavily, she added. “Many people believe that their own smoking is too limited to be harmful — that a few cigarettes a day represent a minimal risk,” said Soerheim. “However, in the low-exposure group in this study, half of the women actually had severe COPD.”
Researchers have long suspected that women are more profoundly affected by smoking than men, perhaps due to hormonal differences or because they have smaller airways.
The findings were reported at a recent meeting of the American Thoracic Society.