Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is a family of more than 200 interstitial lung diseases (ILD) that share similar medical characteristics. According to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, there are more than 250,000 Americans living with PF.
In honor of Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Month this September, we’re spotlighting PF to help patients better understand this group of diseases.
“Pulmonary” refers to the lungs while “fibrosis” refers to scarring. So PF is characterized by lung tissue that becomes scarred and damaged, making it harder for the lungs to work effectively. As PF worsens, patients face increasing shortness of breath and lack of sufficient oxygen.
The American Lung Association notes that the most common type of PF is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF. Unfortunately, there is no known cause for this scarring — that’s what “idiopathic” means — though there are treatments available. Other types of PF include environmental, occupational, drug- and radiation-induced, and autoimmune connective tissue disease.
In addition to shortness of breath, PF may cause a dry, hacking cough that doesn’t improve over time. Patients may also experience fatigue, unexplainable weight loss, and muscle and joint aches. Some also experience widening and rounding of the tips of the toes or fingers, known as clubbing.
The severity and progression of symptoms can vary significantly from one person to the next. Some may experience mild symptoms that progress slowly over years, while others become ill quickly.
Although IPF has no known cause, certain lifestyle factors can contribute. For instance, exposure to air pollutants and toxins such as coal dust or asbestos fibers have been linked to PF. Radiation treatment for lung or breast cancer, some drug prescriptions, and previous conditions such as pneumonia or lupus can also lead to PF. Experts believe certain viruses, genetic factors, and exposure to smoke could also contribute to the condition.
In addition to direct causes, other factors may also increase a person’s risk for PF, including older age (most people are diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 70), and gender (PF is more common in men than women).
While the damage to lung tissue caused by PF cannot be reversed, there are medications available to help control the disease’s progression. Ofev (nintedanib), and Esbriet (pirfenidone) have both been approved by the FDA for treatment.
Oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation such as breathing exercises to enhance lung efficiency, and lifestyle adjustments such as exercising and maintaining a healthy diet may also alleviate PF symptoms. If patients are in otherwise good physical condition and have no other life-threatening diseases, a lung transplant may be an option.
At Lifebrite Stokes, our practitioners are dedicated to helping patients receive an accurate diagnosis to create a personalized treatment plan for PF and several other respiratory conditions. Our team is here to help you find answers, manage existing conditions, and provide exceptional care. To make an appointment with one of our providers, call (336) 593-2831 or learn more about our services online.
Atlanta-based LifeBrite, led by CEO Christian Fletcher, operates LifeBrite Community Hospital of Early, LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes, and Lifebrite Laboratories. For more about our specific services and facilities, visit our website.