New drug helps those who have rare heart condition

SINGAPORE - Mr Jerry Yong felt breathless all the time. Even picking up his three-year-old daughter took a great effort, and he soon relied on an oxygen tank round the clock.

This was eight years ago, when he was diagnosed with pulmonary artery hypertension. Since then, his condition has improved greatly and he no longer needs an oxygen tank. Still, his health has fluctuated and he was admitted to the intensive care unit thrice last year.

Dr James Yip, a senior consultant at the National University Heart Centre Singapore (NUHCS), said that it has been an uphill struggle to find an appropriate treatment for the rare heart condition, which affects an estimated one in 15,000 people.

Many of those affected are women aged between 30 and 50.

"Many years ago, when we first started out, we were basically watching our patients die," he recalled. "At that time, we had nothing to offer our patients."

But NUHCS and the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) participated in a trial for a recently-approved drug, which has reduced hospitalisation for such patients by 50 per cent.

The new drug also reduced the risk of death and adverse events by 45 per cent.

"Our challenge is to be able to pick the condition up early," said associate professor Lim Soo Teik of NHCS. "A woman who is short of breath is not uncommon, and there are so many possible causes that it may lead to a delay in the diagnosis."