Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a condition half a million Malaysians struggle with but only a fraction have awareness about. The progressive lung condition limits airflow in the lungs, causing a person to feel out of breath. Typically caused by long-term exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke that damage the lungs and the airways, other symptoms also include frequent coughing (with or without mucus),wheezing and experiencing a sensation of tightness in the chest. There is currently no cure for COPD, and whilst the early symptoms may be subtle and pass by unnoticed, COPD can have fatal consequences if it is not properly managed –the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) predicts that COPD will be the third leading cause of death by 2020.
“The nature and severity of symptoms presented in COPD is influenced by a range of factors, including exposure to cigarette smoke, viruses and air pollution8,making every patient’s journey of COPD unique,”said Lung Foundation of Malaysia Trustee, Datuk Dr. Aziah Ahmad Mahayiddin.
“As a result, a ‘one size fits all’ approach to disease management doesn’t necessarily work, as sufferers may have different treatment needs that can change over time. Unfortunately, COPD is under diagnosed and undermanaged. Progression of the condition can be delayed with prompt diagnosis, proper assessment of disease severity and appropriate management.”
COPD is also often associated with a series of comorbidities such as skeletal muscle dysfunction, systemic inflammation, and cardiovascular problems that can severely impact sufferers’ quality of life. Patients with COPD may also show a loss of appetite as a result of their breathing difficulties, with between 25% to 40% of sufferers estimated to be undernourished. Unaddressed, these symptoms can often result in depression and social isolation.
“For many individuals with COPD, daily activities can be quite strenuous and daunting. Therefore, it is crucial for them to speak with their doctor to formulate a management strategy which will best suits their physical and emotional needs,” explained Associate Professor Pang Yong Kek, President of the Malaysian Thoracic Society.
“Of course, one of the most important steps in COPD management is to quit smoking, as this will prevent further decline of lung function. In addition to medication, patients should embrace an active lifestyle, take a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly and get enough rest in between their activities. For those with reduced effort tolerance–the decreased ability to exercise–they may be referred to attend a pulmonary rehabilitation programme, where they will be taught effective breathing technique and customised exercises, tailored to their capabilities.”
Taking preventive measures towards COPD can help to slow the progression of the disease and improve lung function. Flu and pneumonia can have serious complications for COPD patients, thus vaccination against these diseases can help protect individuals against infection. Additionally, avoiding fumes, odours and other lung irritants may prevent further flare-ups. By making sure they receive enough sleep and rest throughout the day, individuals suffering from COPD can also maintain their energy levels throughout their daily activities.
Dr. Jamalul Azizi Abdul Rahaman, Chairman of the Malaysian Association for Bronchology & Interventional Pulmonology (MABIP) and Head of Respiratory Services, Ministry of Health added, “The progression of COPD is usually reflected in the deterioration in lung function, which leads to poorer quality of life. Patients may even find it difficult to get themselves dressed or have a good laugh without feeling breathless. Previously, patients who were not well managed with conventional treatments had limited options for further treatment. However, there are new treatment advances beyond inhalers in severe COPD currently available in Malaysia.”
Lien Pham Thi My, General Manager of GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceutical Malaysia stated, “Through our ongoing collaboration with the country’s leading respiratory associations, we will work hand-in-hand with healthcare professionals to support and empower patients, providing them with the resources to help them manage their disease effectively. In doing so, we hope to continually contribute to reduce the national burden of COPD, so patients can live every breath.”