Young smokers at risk of getting COPD
Wed, Oct 13, 2010
my paper

By Sherilyn Lim

ALL eyes were on Mr Muhamad Yazarudin when he gasped for breath while on board a crowded MRT train last month.

The 32-year-old customer-service senior executive found himself short of breath constantly, but did not know why.

Alarmed, he consulted a respiratory specialist and underwent a spirometry test which tested his lung capacity. The results were shocking. He was diagnosed with mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in its early stages.

He told my paper: "I had never heard of COPD. I did not realise that my smoking habit was the cause of it."

Mr Muhamad said that he has been smoking for the past 11 years.

COPD is an incurable respiratory lung disease mainly caused by smoking, with 15 to 20 per cent of smokers developing the disease in their lifetime.

The president of the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Association Singapore, Dr Ong Kian Chung, warned that the number of COPD cases in Singapore is expected to increase by at least 20 per cent by 2020 from the current 60,000 recorded cases.

Studies have shown that, by that same year, COPD will become the thirdleading cause of chronic-disease mortality worldwide, he added at a media conference held yesterday.

Worldwide figures from the World Health Organization showed that nearly three million people die from COPD every year. Sufferers of severe forms of COPD can even be bedridden and unable to perform simple everyday activities.

COPD's primary warning sign is a chronic cough but doctors say that a symptomatic assessment is not enough to identify the disease.

Taking a spirometry test - which involves exhaling into an instrument - is a far more accurate way of diagnosing the disease, said Dr Ong. The degenerative disease affects mostly those in their 50s or 60s, but younger people are also at risk, especially if they started smoking at a young age.

A National Health Surveillance Survey conducted in 2007 revealed that 17.2 per cent of youth in Singapore started smoking between the ages of 18 and 29.

Mr Muhamad has learnt his lesson.

He said that he has dramatically cut down on the number of sticks he smokes and hopes to kick the habit for good. He said: "I find myself with far more energy now, especially as I no longer have any shortness of breath."

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