XX Files: Older women with asthma at higher risk for death

December 25, 2014 12:15 am  •  By XX FILES Dr. Andrew Labelle St. Luke’s Hospital

As women age, several health-related issues become top of mind.

Some of the more common are heart disease, osteoporosis, breast cancer and diabetes, which occur more often in older women than in younger women. But, for some, these more recognized issues seem to distract them from also focusing on conditions they already have, such as asthma.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, about 10.2 percent of adults in the St. Louis metro region are living with asthma, and statewide, about 13.1 percent of women have asthma.

In addition, in 2009, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America named St. Louis at the top of its “Asthma Capitals” list, which ranks the most challenging cities to live in with asthma. And although St. Louis did not make it to the top of its most recent list of “asthma capitals,” asthma still remains a problem for multiple reasons.

Asthma is a condition where the bronchial tubes swell, which causes the airways of the lungs to shrink and reduces the airflow into and out of the lungs. The disease has multiple causes, both allergic and non-allergic. There is no cure, but asthma can be controlled with medications.

Older women with asthma have an added reason to properly track and treat the condition. According to a recent article in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, even though the asthma rate for older women is not statistically higher than for other demographics within the population, women 65 and older are four times more likely to die from the condition than other groups.

Multiple factors contribute to why older women have a difficult time addressing their asthma. They include menopause, which can increase the frequency of attacks, and hormone replacement therapy, which can increase a woman’s risk of asthma. Older women with severe asthma can also be at risk for depression. Proper monitoring and treatment can help reduce these risks.

Common treatments for asthma include long-term control options and quick-relief medicines. Speak with your physician about which option is best for you.

Dr. Andrew Labelle is a pulmonologist at The Lung Research Center at St. Luke’s Hospital. To participate in a lung study covering asthma or other lung diseases, call 314-439-5864 or visit