Early Detection and Gender Disparities in COPD

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Dr. in this interview. Meilan Hahn, a distinguished pulmonologist and head of the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care at the University of Michigan, shares her deep insights into Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

With your extensive background and contributions in pulmonary and critical care, can you share what initially drew you to studying COPD?

I am Dr. Meilan Hahn, a pulmonologist at the University of Michigan, where I recently became chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care. I have always had a keen interest in COPD, both in clinical research and patient care.

Your research revolves around defining phenotypes in COPD using imaging. Can you explain its importance and why it is important in understanding COPD?

Imaging technologies, such as CT scanning, have become increasingly important in COPD care. As we develop new treatments for a wider range of patients, we need to identify a wider spectrum of diseases. Imaging is now necessary for many patients, especially those with more severe disease. In addition, lung cancer screening overlaps with the COPD patient population, further increasing the need for imaging.

What has been the most unexpected or exciting result of your research on gender disparities in COPD?

Research on gender disparities in COPD has revealed several interesting findings. Women may be more sensitive to the effects of tobacco smoke, with greater effects on lung function and difficulty quitting. Women also experience more severity of the disease. The global increase in COPD in women can be attributed to a variety of factors, including smoking and environmental factors in different regions of the world.

How do you believe the medical community can better address these gender disparities to ensure equitable care and outcomes for all COPD patients?

The medical community has made progress requiring equal gender representation in clinical trials and considering sex as a biological variable in analyses. This change has led to valuable insights into sex-specific differences in COPD and other diseases. Continuing these efforts and increasing awareness of these disparities is essential to improving care for all.

This year’s theme emphasizes early lung health, early diagnosis and early intervention, in your opinion, what are the most effective strategies to ensure early detection and intervention of COPD?

Early detection of COPD remains a significant challenge, with more than half of cases going undiagnosed. We need better screening tools and more proactive conversations with patients about risk factors. Spirometry should be considered early in the diagnostic process. Initiatives such as lung cancer screening can also help detect COPD at an early stage where early signs of the disease can be detected in patients who have not yet had lung function tests.

Where do you see COPD diagnosis, treatment and patient care in the next decade?

We are moving towards greater recognition of early-stage COPD with a focus on young adults. New treatments are emerging, and clinical trials are underway. Despite the challenges of studying COPD, progress is being made, and we may see new treatments gain FDA approval in the near future.

Image credit: Andrew Angelov/Shutterstock.com

Image credit: Andrew Angelov/Shutterstock.com

On this World COPD Day, what special message or guidance would you like to give to our readers, especially those who have or are at risk of COPD?

It is important to understand that COPD can have its roots in childhood and early adulthood due to various risk factors. We need to be more aware of the factors that affect lung health and engage in conversations with healthcare professionals about the need for screening. Stigmatizing the disease based on its association with smoking is unhelpful, as many factors beyond our control can contribute to its development.

What are common misconceptions about COPD that you often encounter and how do you address them?

A common misconception is that all COPD cases are caused by smoking alone. In fact, factors such as premature birth, childhood respiratory infections, environmental exposures, and genetics can also play an important role in its development. We should avoid stigmatizing the disease and recognize the complexity of its origins.

Any upcoming projects or collaborations you are excited about and can share with our readers?

I am currently involved in a project focusing on early COPD in young adults. The SOURCE study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, explores earlier stages of the disease and the Lung Health Cohort, co-funded by the American Lung Association and the NIH, targets even younger adults, ages 25 to 35. These studies have already been published Unexpected lung disease outcomes, including those related to vaping and marijuana use, are, I believe, underreported and deserve more attention.

Where can readers find more information?

About Meilan Han

Meilan Hahn, MD MS, is professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at University of Michigan Health. Dr. Hahn received his medical degree from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. He completed his residency in internal medicine and fellowshipHeap in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Michigan. Dr. Hahn also completed master’s degree programs in biostatistics and clinical study design at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Dr. Hahn’s research has focused on defining phenotypes in COPD using imaging. He is the principal investigator of several NIH-sponsored COPD studies. He also serves on scientific advisory committees for both the COPD Foundation and the American Lung Association, serves on the board of the COPD Foundation and as spokesperson for the American Lung Association. He is currently a Deputy Editor of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. He is also a member of the Global Obstructive Lung Disease Scientific Committee charged with developing internationally recognized consensus statements on the diagnosis and management of COPD.

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