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What is Pulmonary Fibrosis?*
Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease that occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred. This thickened, stiff tissue makes it more difficult for your lungs to work properly. As pulmonary fibrosis worsens, you become progressively more short of breath.
The scarring associated with pulmonary fibrosis can be caused by a multitude of factors. But in most cases, doctors cannot pinpoint what’s causing the problem. When a cause can’t be found, the condition is termed idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
The lung damage caused by pulmonary fibrosis can’t be repaired, but medications and therapies can sometimes help ease symptoms and improve quality of life. For some people, a lung transplant might be appropriate.
What Are the Symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis?
The symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis include:
- Difficulty breathing, especially during physical activity
- Persistent dry cough
- Aching of the joints
- Uncontrollable weight loss
- Clubbed fingertips and toes
Regardless of the order of these symptoms, when you begin to notice them, you should seek medical assistance.
What Are the Causes of Pulmonary Fibrosis?
The damage to lungs in Pulmonary fibrosis may be caused by many different factors including:
- Dusty environments, including silica, coal dust and granite dust
- Working around chemicals, asbestos and other toxins
- Radiation treatment to the chest
- Adverse reactions to certain medications
- Certain medical conditions including mixed connective tissue disease, rheumatoid arthritis, pneumonia and other diseases.
How is Pulmonary Fibrosis diagnosed?
Your physician will perform a thorough examination to identify pulmonary fibrosis and to develop a treatment. This will include a review of your medical history and some questions about your health, wellbeing, lifestyle and any smoking habits you may have incurred in your life.Furthermore, part of an accurate diagnosis may include some of the following tests:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan
- Pulmonary function test
- Blood-gas analysis
How is Pulmonary Fibrosis treated?
Since pulmonary fibrosis is not a curable disease, the goal of treatment is to improve your ability to breathe and to impede the progression of the disease. Depending on the severity of the condition, your age and your overall health and wellbeing, your treatment may include the following:
- Medications – two medications have been approved by the FDA and may help slow the progression of idiopathic Pulmonary fibrosis
- Oxygen therapy – Supplemental oxygen may improve your ability to breathe throughout the day. It may be necessary to undergo oxygen therapy multiple times a day or throughout the entire day.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – Exercising, nutritional guidance and counseling can help patients manage their symptoms and improve daily functioning.
Lung transplant – to find out if you are a candidate for a lung transplant, speak with your primary medical provider.
Is Pulmonary Fibrosis preventable?
Medicine has been able to identify several risk factors for developing this disease. They include:
- Age. Although pulmonary fibrosis has been diagnosed in children and infants, the disorder is much more likely to affect middle-aged and older adults.
- Sex. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is more likely to affect men than women.
- Smoking. Far more smokers and former smokers develop pulmonary fibrosis than do people who have never smoked. Pulmonary fibrosis can occur in patients with emphysema.
- Certain occupations. You have an increased risk of developing pulmonary fibrosis if you work in mining, farming or construction or if you’re exposed to pollutants known to damage your lungs.
- Cancer treatments. Having radiation treatments to your chest or using certain chemotherapy drugs can increase your risk of pulmonary fibrosis.
- Genetic factors. Some types of pulmonary fibrosis run in families, and genetic factors may be a component.
- Stop smoking. If you have lung disease, it’s very important to stop smoking. Talk to your doctor about options for quitting, including smoking cessation programs, which use a variety of proven techniques to help people quit. And because secondhand smoke can be harmful to your lungs, avoid being around people who are smoking.
- Eat well. People with lung disease may lose weight both because it’s uncomfortable to eat and because of the extra energy it takes to breathe. Yet a nutritionally rich diet that contains adequate calories is essential. Try to eat smaller meals more often during the day. Aim to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats. Avoid trans fat and saturated fat, too much salt, and added sugars. A dietitian can give you further guidelines for healthy eating.
- Get moving. Regular exercise can help you maintain your lung function and manage your stress. Aim to incorporate physical activity, such as walking or biking, into your daily routine. Talk to your doctor about which activities may be appropriate for you. If you require assistance with mobility over time, such as a wheelchair, look for activities or hobbies you can do that don’t require walking.
- Take time to rest. Make sure to get enough rest. Taking time to rest can help you have more energy and cope with the stress of your condition.
- Get vaccinated. Respiratory infections can worsen symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis. Make sure you receive the pneumonia vaccine and an annual flu shot. It’s important that your family members also be vaccinated. Aim to avoid crowds during flu season.
- Follow your treatment plan. You’ll need to have ongoing treatment from your doctor. Follow your doctor’s instructions, take your medications as prescribed, and adjust your diet and exercise as needed. Go to all of your doctor’s appointments.
We’re Here To Help
Would you like to speak with a Patient Care Specialist at Centers for Respiratory Health about pulmonary fibrosis? Whether you’re experiencing symptoms or would like to know more about prevention, we’re available to talk with you. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.