Purpose of review: Unlike other major diseases, mortality for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) continues to increase. In recent years, COPD has evolved to increasingly affect women, minorities, and individuals from low socioeconomic groups. In women and African-Americans, evidence exists supporting the earlier development of COPD after less lifetime smoking. This review highlights new information on racial and sex differences in COPD.
Recent findings: Sex and related hormonal changes affect T-cell phenotypes, immunity, and smoking-related metabolism of toxic intermediate metabolites. Alterations in the bronchoalveolar lavage proteome of women, but not of men, have allowed the differentiation of healthy female smokers from smokers with COPD. Sex significantly influences levels of inflammatory cytokines and correlates with different clinical and physiological parameters in female COPD patients. African-Americans with COPD are younger, smoke less, are more likely to currently smoke, and have worse health-related quality of life (QOL). African-Americans are more likely to report hospitalized exacerbations that impact QOL. African-Americans with COPD and asthma are nearly four times more likely to experience exacerbations.
Summary: There are sex-specific and race-related differences in the manifestation of COPD. These differences warrant further physiologic, biologic, and genetic investigations.