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Dr. Bobby Shah, St. Luke's Hospital

Women need to take note of important respiratory issues

Respiratory issues affect millions of Americans. According to the National Institutes of Health, lung diseases, in general, are the third leading cause of death in America, causing one in seven deaths. Whether talking about allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, respiratory infections or other conditions, we are all at risk for developing some form of lung condition. Women should be aware of lung conditions and take action if they suspect they have any of the following problems.

Asthma
Asthma can pose a significant problem for women because different stages in life and hormones can complicate the function of their airways. Estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, and its corresponding levels within the female body, can trigger inflammation in the airways which can bring on a bout of asthma. The variability of estrogen levels is usually the result of one of three factors: a woman's menstrual cycle, pregnancy or menopause. All three can contribute to dramatic changes in hormone activity and can increase the likelihood of an asthma attack.

Respiratory Infections During Pregnancy
Pregnancy welcomes many opportunities for viral infections. A whole host of conditions can present issues for women and their unborn children, including the common cold, influenza (flu), chickenpox, fifth disease (parvovirus B19), cytomegalovirus (CMV) and rubella. Vaccinations during pregnancy are an option to ward off these infections, but there are risks. Women should discuss these risks with their doctors before being vaccinated.

Lung Cancer
Lung cancer rates for women that have never smoked are on the rise. A recent study in Europe found the incidence of lung cancer in non-smoking women rose from 7.9 percent in 2000 to 11.9 percent in 2010. In addition, while men have seen a 20 percent drop in mortality rates from lung cancer (1999 to 2008), there has been no decrease in women.

COPD
A recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the incidence of COPD in women is on the rise. It found that more than six percent of women now have the disease, while four percent of men suffer from it.

Dr. Bobby Shah is a pulmonologist at St. Luke's Hospital. For more information, call 314-576-6700.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on November 15, 2012.

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