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Breath of fresh air on killer smoking disease

Hong Kong Standard

Kenneth Foo

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A fresh set of medical guidelines could breathe new life into patients suffering from a serious smoking- related lung disease.

According to a leading respiratory specialist, the revamped protocols will help patients and doctors identify the early onset of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and take decisive action to defeat it.

“Early recognition makes all the difference,” Dr Alvin Ng Kin-chung said.

“The new guidelines allow for early attention to the disease and doctors can prescribe drugs to fight the illness at its early stages.”

Many doctors have dubbed COPD the “silent killer” as it is often neglected, undiagnosed or even confused with asthma.


COPD is expected to become the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030, according to World Health Organization estimates.

It is a breathing disorder that usually co-exists with other lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema and, in most cases, a combination of both. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and fatigue.

The systemic illness typically affects smokers, but can also affect anyone exposed to smoke or chemicals.

The condition of the COPD patient becomes complicated by what doctors call “lung attacks,” which signal that COPD is getting worse. They frequently occur after the patient has been ill for a few years.

The new set of protocols was enacted by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease, an international cooperative of medical experts and specialists who meet every five years to draft guidelines that govern its treatment.

Revisions of the existing guidelines set up in 2006 include a patient’s self-assessment test and a doctor’s assessment.

The patient’s self assessment comes in the form of a short questionnaire that requires participants to give information such as the seriousness of coughing, chest tightness and energy levels.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a key part of the new COPD treatment plan.

One part education and one part exercise, pulmonary rehabilitation is a multidisciplinary approach that includes breathing techniques and emotional support.

Patient education and pulmonary rehabilitation, if given early, can reduce the number of lung attacks and dramatically improve a patient’s quality of life.

A patient who has reaped some benefits from pulmonary rehabilitation is Mr Lau, 70, who was hospitalized in 2010 with the disease.

He made a remarkable recovery after being given moderate doses of inhaled steroids and pulmonary rehabilitation.

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