[Letters] Include pulmonary function test in health exam

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[Letters] Include pulmonary function test in health exam

A television variety program created a stir when it featured a person’s “lung age” that was 20 years older than the person’s actual age.

In my clinic, I often see patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They may seem young and healthy but suffer from a shortness of breath.

As I watch the patients leaving my office wheezing and coughing, I feel sorry that they did not pay attention to the symptoms sooner. The main cause of COPD is smoking.

The harmful substances found in cigarette smoke narrow the airways, and when the respiratory function is compromised, irreversible damage is done to the person’s health.

In Korea, 17.2 percent of adults over the age 45 suffer from COPD. Along with AIDS, COPD is the one of the major causes of death worldwide, but not many people are aware of the risks of COPD.

The demographic group vulnerable to COPD is smokers over the age 45. Last year, the Korean Academy of Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases conducted a survey, and only 0.4 percent of respondents who were part of the high risk group had heard of COPD.

Generally, COPD is mostly found in heavy smokers who consume more than one pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years, and symptoms start to show gradually 20 years after they start smoking cigarettes.

The most notable symptoms include coughing, phlegm and shortness of breath, which many smokers experience.

Therefore, most patients do not realize they are suffering from a serious pulmonary disease.

However, once the symptoms aggravate, the patient has a hard time carrying out even the most basic daily tasks such as eating, washing their face or dressing. Even such very light physical movement is difficult for them and results in a shortness of breath.

Currently, the most objective and accurate way to diagnose COPD is the pulmonary function test (PFT). This simple test requires five to 10 minutes and costs only about 10,000 won ($8.95). All adults over age 40 need to get the pulmonary function test regularly if they suffer from chronic coughing or phlegm, even if there is no difficulty breathing.

The World Health Organization forecasts that COPD will become the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2020.

Lately, treatments to suppress the rate of lung function failure and to alleviate symptoms have improved considerably.

To prevent people from letting the disease aggravate without realizing it, the government must include the pulmonary function test in the nationwide early checkup project.


Han Sung-koo, professor of internal medicine at Seoul National University

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