The many faces of COPD: Supporting patients across Malaysia this World COPD Day

“The first sign I experienced was that I struggled to run for the bus, and I would struggle to breath. I began coughing – I would cough and cough, and even just standing outside and breathing in the carbon monoxide from the vehicles, I would become breathless.”

Mr Hanafi is 64 years old. Previously an Interior Design Project Consultant, he currently lives in Singapore with his wife, and is one of the many faces of COPD – a patient suffering chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD is a progressive lung disease that makes it increasingly hard to breathe. It is typically caused by long-term exposure to lung irritants that damage the lungs and the airways, cigarette smoke is the leading cause of the disease, with around 89‒97% of sufferers identified as current or past smokers. Common symptoms include breathlessness, particularly when being active, a persistent chesty cough, frequent chest infections and persistent wheezing, but can vary between individuals. The symptoms of COPD develop slowly, usually becoming apparent after 40 to 50 years of age.

“My symptoms continued for four to five years before I saw a doctor, and after many tests, we discovered that my lungs were functioning at 65%. At the time, I didn’t know about the disease and the effect it would have on my life.”

Like Mr Hanafi, many people don’t realise they have COPD – during its early stages, the disease may display only mild symptoms, which may pass by unnoticed. As COPD progresses, daily activities can become very difficult, and sufferers may experience exacerbations – serious episodes of increased breathlessness, cough and mucus production that can last between several days to a few weeks. These episodes can result in need for urgent medical care (including hospitalisation) and sometimes death.

There is currently no cure for COPD, and with approximately 384 million people thought to suffer from COPD globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that COPD will become the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030. In Malaysia, the Global Burden of Disease study ranked COPD as the seventh most common cause of premature death in Malaysia for 2010.

“COPD continues to be a growing threat in Malaysia, due to high smoking prevalence and our aging population,” explains Dato’ Dr Zainudin bin Md. Zin, Consultant Physician of Internal and Respiratory Medicine, KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital, and Chairman of the Lung Foundation of Malaysia. “As the risk increases, so does the need to heighten awareness amongst the public on the impact of COPD and the irreparable damage it can cause to the lungs.”

In conjunction with this year’s World COPD Day, on Wednesday 15 November 2017, the Lung Foundation of Malaysia and Malaysian Thoracic Society, supported by GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceutical Sdn Bhd (GSK) are continuing efforts to address the educational needs of healthcare professionals and individuals at risk of COPD, in order to enhance understanding and management of the disease across the country.

Following the launch of the ‘Every Breath Matters’ educational materials in 2016, which aimed to increase recognition of COPD and its symptoms, GSK is launching a range of digital materials which are targeted towards individuals who have received a COPD diagnosis. The COPD Choices Website will host a number of informational pages in both English and Bahasa Malaysia, including videos from local experts, to help support patients in the management of their disease.

“The best way to prevent COPD is to avoid smoking or to quit smoking,” stated Prof. Pang Yong Kek, Consultant Respiratory Physician of University of Malaya Medical Centre and President of the Malaysian Thoracic Society. “However, if someone has been diagnosed with COPD, there are ways in which we can help relieve symptoms, improve patients’ quality of life and reduce the risk of death. We are optimistic that ongoing collaborations such as this can help us expand the reach of our resources to help empower patients in their disease management.”

Ramil Burden, Vice President and General Manager, GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceutical Sdn Bhd, Malaysia stated, “GSK has invested over 40 years in respiratory research – developing medicines that have transformed the treatment of respiratory diseases such as COPD. We find that every patient living with COPD have unique challenges and needs, and through the digital launch of COPD Choices in Malaysia, we can continue to support individuals suffering from COPD to live every breath.”

For more information on COPD, please visit the COPD Choices website at: https://health.gsk.my/copd_choices.html