The former first lady, who smoked cigarettes for decades before quitting in 1968, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and COPD, which has been a persistent killer of African-Americans for several years. Many non-smokers are also affected by the disease. Air pollutants, including secondhand smoke and some heating fuels, as well as dust, gases and fumes are also cited as causes. Genetic predisposition can cause the disease, too.
COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and affects millions, according to “COPD in a Population-Based Sample of Never-Smokers: Interactions among Sex, Gender, and Race,” a study published in the International Journal Of Chronic Diseases in 2016. Looking at the numbers among non-smokers, 7% of African-American women were reported to have COPD, as opposed to 5.2% of White women, the study revealed.
Common COPD symptoms include chronic cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, not being able to take deep breaths and chronic phlegm production, according to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention. Though COPD may be underreported with infrequent research and studies about the disease’s facts available to people, it is still a crisis mainly affecting African-Americans.
COPD death rates among Blacks and women have been rapidly rising — an alarming pattern that breaks away from a longstanding belief that the disease only harmed White male smokers. But why are Black people more susceptible to the disease?
African-Americans and women may be particularly susceptible to tobacco smoke, according to the National Center For Biotechnology Information.
The high prevalence and mortality rates of Blacks with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and strokes have also been considered in determining how to stop COPD from being deadly. Questions of whether race or gender influence COPD susceptibility have also been introduced in trying to figure out the future impact of the disease.
Treatments to manage COPD symptoms include inhalers and other medications, oxygen, physical activity training and pulmonary rehabilitation. There is currently no cure for COPD. However, with medical professionals trying to figure out the disease’s future impact, a cure is hoped for soon.