Patient Education

Healthclicks Newsletters

Women's Health

May 2014

Is Asthma Worse for Women?

Asthma is a thief. It steals the breath away from more than 25 million Americans. Women are especially likely to have this chronic lung disease. And they may struggle more with asthma problems, so suggests a recent study. 

More emergency care

If you have asthma, certain triggers—such as animal fur or pollen—may cause your airways to swell up and narrow. This inflammation can make it hard for you to breathe. You may cough or wheeze. You may feel short of breath or have a tightness in your chest. Uncontrolled, these symptoms can be life-threatening.

In a recent study, researchers set out to see how women and men fared with asthma symptoms. They looked at hospital discharges from across the country. They focused on records related to asthma. More than 3 million hospitalizations for the disease occurred between 2000 and 2010.

Overall, more women than men were hospitalized for asthma. The greatest difference was seen in people in their 50s and 60s. Middle-aged women were twice as likely to be hospitalized compared with men of the same age. That didn't change even after accounting for other variables, such as smoking and obesity.

Different theories

Men and women with asthma report seeing their doctors at about the same rates. So why are women with the condition hospitalized more often? It could simply be because more women tend to have asthma. But ongoing research suggests something more.

Some experts think it's because women have smaller lungs and airways. They may be more sensitive to allergens. Women may also perceive breathing problems differently from men.

Estrogen may be another reason. As the hormone fluctuates in a woman's body, asthma symptoms may worsen. That may account for the age difference in asthma prevalence. In childhood, asthma is more common in boys. But after puberty, the disease affects more females.

One recent study seems to support the hormone link. Researchers tracked the respiratory symptoms of nearly 4,000 women over their menstrual cycle. Symptoms varied a lot. But they did see some patterns. Women reported more wheezing and shortness of breath during the middle of their cycles. Those with asthma tended to cough more after ovulation.

Women with asthma may notice changes in their symptoms at other times during their lives, too. For instance, some women who become pregnant see their symptoms worsen. That's more likely to happen if they don't have their asthma under control before becoming pregnant. Menopause also affects the disease. Past research has noted a drop in asthma in postmenopausal women.


Asthma May Affect Fertility

Asthma may delay pregnancy in women who have the disease. That's what researchers found in a recent study on twins. They asked more than 15,000 female twins about their health and fertility. Nearly 1,000 of them had asthma.

Women with asthma had more trouble becoming pregnant. It took them longer. That was especially the case in women older than age 30. Those with uncontrolled asthma had the most problems conceiving. The researchers think worse symptoms may impair fertility.


It’s important for you to keep your asthma under control. Click here for more about managing the condition.


Online resources


National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

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