Women and Bronchiectasis

Posted on March 04, 2020   |   

This article was written by Bret Denning, JD and Stephanie Williams, BS, RRT


As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we turn our attention to how bronchiectasis uniquely affects women and the impact that has on gender equality in healthcare and what can be done.

As we noted in a previous blog post, bronchiectasis is often difficult to diagnose because it can have similar symptoms to COPD, and some people have both COPD and bronchiectasis. What researchers do know is that bronchiectasis can have a more significant impact on women than on men. Studies have shown that women are more likely to develop bronchiectasis at an earlier age and may have more severe cases of it affecting health and, a poorer lung function.

Why does bronchiectasis affect women more than men?

Some of the reasons are simply physical. Women generally have smaller lungs and therefore smaller airways, which could have an impact on mucus production and ability to clear mucus from the airways. Additionally, some research has shown that certain female hormones affect airway disease activity, although the exact reason is still not known.

Other factors that can lead to women being impacted earlier than men include the tendency to develop bronchiectasis in the first place (just like women are more likely to have COPD) and genetic factors, such as how the body changes over time. In addition, men naturally have lung functionality that is, on average, 25% greater than women.i

What can be done to address the challenges that women face regarding bronchiectasis?

First, more research should be done to study why disparities exist and what can be done to overcome these barriers. Second, physicians and other healthcare providers must realize that there is no “one size fits all” approach to treating bronchiectasis. When treating females with bronchiectasis, providers must account for differences so they can provide the most effective clinical treatment including access to therapies that work best for them. For instance, since women typically have a smaller lung volume than men, they may feel and be impacted by smaller changes in lung function that treatment affects.

Education also plays a role. The health-related mission of International Women’s Day is “to assist women to be in a position of power for making informed decisions about their health.” There must be more information available for women to understand how bronchiectasis and other lung diseases affect them in a unique way. This includes what steps women can take to protect themselves, be empowered with questions and topics to discuss with their doctor, and how reduce the effects of bronchiectasis.

Join us in supporting International Women’s Day! It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women - while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality. A key element of creating a gender equal world is working to eliminate any gender bias in the diagnosis, treatment and management of chronic lung diseases including bronchiectasis.

iVidaillac, Celine et al. "Gender differences in bronchiectasis: a real issue?." Breathe (Sheffield, England) vol. 14,2 (2018): 108-121. doi:10.1183/20734735.000218

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  • I didn't realize some of the possible reasons for the sex difference in bronchiectasis. Thanks for posting this!
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