Asthma, the Sex Difference

Jessica A. Kynyk; John G. Mastronarde; Jennifer W. McCallister


Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2011;17(1):6-11. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Purpose of review Asthma is a common chronic disease with significant clinical impact worldwide. Sex-related disparities in asthma epidemiology and morbidity exist but debate continues regarding the mechanisms for these differences. There is a need to review the recent findings for asthma care providers and to highlight areas in need of additional research.
Recent findings Recent data illustrate striking sex-related differences in asthma epidemiology and disease expression. Studies show an increased incidence of asthma in women. Data demonstrate that asthmatic women have a poorer quality of life and increased utilization of healthcare compared to their male counterparts despite similar medical treatment and baseline pulmonary function. Research continues to explore hypotheses for these differences including the potential influences of the female sex hormones, altered perception of airflow obstruction, increased bronchial hyper-responsiveness, and medication compliance and technique. However, no single explanation has been able to fully explain the disparities.
Summary Women are more likely to be diagnosed with asthma and suffer greater morbidity than men. The physiologic mechanisms for these differences are not well understood. Understanding sex-related differences in asthma and providing patients with education geared toward these disparities are important in establishing effective, individualized asthma management strategies for all patients.


Asthma is a common disease affecting more than 23 million adults in the United States[1] and 300 million people worldwide. The prevalence of asthma has increased, and an estimated 250 000 deaths globally are related to asthma each year.[2] Considerable differences in asthma prevalence, morbidity, and healthcare utilization have been identified between men and women although the exact mechanisms underlying these disease disparities remain uncertain. The major sex-related differences in asthma related disease manifestations and some of the hypotheses that have been developed to explain these are reviewed here.


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