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Korean pulmonary arterial hypertension patients’ survival far lower than Japanese
  • By Kim Yun-mi
  • Published 2019.07.15 16:48
  • Updated 2019.07.15 16:48
  • comments 0

The three-year survival rate of Korean patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) stood at 56 percent, significantly lower than that of 95 percent in Japan, experts said. The disease is as fatal as lung cancer.

To raise the survival rate, doctors at primary medical institutions should be better aware of the disease to make an early diagnosis, and the nation needs to introduce advanced treatment options, they said. The government also needs to designate a special medical institution to support the treatment of PAH patients exclusively, they added.

Chung Wook-jin, general affairs director of Korean Pulmonary Hypertension Society, speaks during a debate on “Detecting fatal pulmonary arterial hypertension early and providing specialized treatment” at the National Assembly on Friday.

Korean Pulmonary Hypertension Society (KPHS) held a debate on “Detecting fatal pulmonary arterial hypertension early and providing specialized treatment” at the National Assembly on Friday, to urge the government’s support to raise the survival rate of local patients and to suggest detailed measures.

Chung Wook-jin, general affairs director of KPHS who is also a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Gachon University Gil Medical Center, spoke on the survival rate of local patients with PAH and treatment status.

He emphasized an early diagnosis and specialization of treatment to improve the patient’s survival rate.

“Pulmonary hypertension causes 28 diseases that can cause a problem at heart, respiratory organ, and rheumatism. Pulmonary hypertension is a unique disease that includes various cardiovascular diseases and rare diseases,” Chung said. “About 25 years ago, there was no treatment at all. Recently, however, 10 kinds of treatments have been developed, drawing attention around the world.”

According to Chung, the World Health Organization categorized PAH as Group 1 pulmonary hypertension among five separate groups of pulmonary hypertension. PAH accounts for only 2 percent of all pulmonary hypertension, but half of the patients with PAH die of sudden death, and the other half die of right heart failure. PAH has a poor prognosis and is fatal.

“In Korea, it takes about 1.5 years from the onset of PAH symptoms to the diagnosis. After the confirmed diagnosis, patients have only 2.8 years of survival,” Chung said.

The reason that it takes much time to confirm a diagnosis is that PAH symptoms are similar to those of anemia, heart disease, and lung disease. “Unless both the patient and the primary care doctor suspect of PAH, it is easy to miss the diagnosis,” he added.

Among the 10 treatments for PAH available in the world, only seven are authorized for use in Korea.

Epoprostenol, released about 20 years ago overseas, is considered the most effective drug for PAH but Korea has not adopted it to date, and the government needs to grant the nod for epoprostenol, Chung said.

Chung’s proposals to raise the low survival rate include enhancing the recognition of PAH, quickly introducing unauthorized treatments, aggressively using combination therapies, building a platform for pulmonary hypertension registry project, and designating a special center to care for patients with pulmonary hypertension.

Japan, which exercised all of the mentioned measures from 1998, boasts a 95 percent survival rate among patients with PAH. Japan has maintained the 95 percent survival rate for a decade.

“It is true that the government’s support for the patient registry program was insufficient due to the lack of research funds. However, we are aware of the significance of the program, and we will make efforts to secure the funds,” said Kim Ki-nam, director of the Disease Policy Division at the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

The government will work with KPHS to select a specialized treatment center and support it so that it can identify PAH patients and provide specialized treatment, he said.

KPHS President Lee Shin-seok, who is also a professor at the Rheumatology Division of the Chonnam National University Bitgoeul Hospital, said Korea has an estimated 4,500-6,000 patients suffering from PAH in Korea, but only a third of them received a confirmed diagnosis.

“If PAH is detected early and the patient received the right treatment, long-term survival for over a decade is also possible. The government needs to approve the newest drugs, manage and support patients, and select a special center aggressively,” Lee said.


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