Understanding the social consequences of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: the effects of stigma and gender

Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2007 Dec;4(8):680-2. doi: 10.1513/pats.200706-084SD.


Stigma is a social construction that defines people in terms of a distinguishing characteristic or mark, and devalues them as a consequence. Stigma occurs when society labels someone as tainted, less desirable, or handicapped. There is emerging evidence that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a physical condition with social consequences. The valuing, and devaluing, of individuals within society are social judgments that have roots in sociocultural values and beliefs. Cultural norms and values dictate the distinct roles and behaviors that are expected of men and women in a given culture. Social reactions to individuals with COPD can have an effect on their illness experience. This article explores the relationships between COPD and stigma and gender, particularly how these key elements may interact to affect experiences of individuals with COPD within their social milieu. The aim of this article is to begin to set out questions and issues that require further empirical exploration. The stigma of COPD arises because people are held responsible for their disease, are noted to have engaged in a stigmatized behavior (smoking), are marked with oxygen equipment and bodily changes, and experience a disruption in their social interactions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / psychology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Stereotyping*