Smaller airways in women may explain COPD exacerbations

Computed tomography of the chest

The airways of women are smaller and different from those of men, which may help explain variations in the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to NHLBI-supported research in Radiology.

Using data from the
Genetic Epidemiology of COPD study, researchers studied airway and lung images from thousands of men and women. They assessed images and data from 420 adults who never smoked and from 9,363 adults who currently or used to smoke. In addition to finding that women had smaller and different airway structures than men, the researchers found women who smoked were more likely to experience worse outcomes. After controlling for height and lung size, women who smoked were more likely to have poorer respiratory symptoms, shortness of breath, complete a shorter distance on a six-minute walk test, and have reduced survival compared to men with similar lung features.

The authors note these findings may guide future research related to COPD progression.