Posted: Monday, April 15, 2024

Understanding Pulmonary Fibrosis

Pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive lung disease characterized by lung tissue damage and scarring, poses significant challenges for individuals affected by its debilitating symptoms. While the severity and rate of progression vary from person to person, the impact on daily life can be serious. Recognizing the signs, seeking timely diagnosis, and accessing appropriate treatment and support are important steps in managing this condition.

Pulmonary fibrosis primarily affects individuals over the age of 50. Presentation most commonly occurs in individuals ages 60-70 with incidence increasing with advancing age. Despite its prevalence, diagnosis often is delayed due to the nonspecific nature of symptoms, which can include progressive shortness of breath on exertion, chronic dry cough and fatigue. These symptoms, while nonspecific, can significantly impair quality of life and should be discussed with a medical provider. Early detection is essential for effective management and intervention.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is the most common form of chronic fibrosing lung disease, accounting for a significant portion of cases. However, more than 200 different lung diseases can cause interstitial pneumonia, which can make diagnosis challenging. “IPF is a rare and unpredictable disease that can get worse and cause permanent scarring of the lungs. The scarring makes it more difficult for oxygen to pass through the tiny air sacs in the lungs, resulting in irreversible damage and loss of lung function. One in four people with IPF may suffer acute exacerbation over a three-year period, resulting in a sudden worsening of symptoms, which can sometimes be first indicator of IPF,” explained Suan Orr, physician assistant with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine.

While the exact cause of pulmonary fibrosis remains unknown, certain risk factors, such as occupational exposures, have been identified. Diagnosis typically involves a comprehensive evaluation by a pulmonologist, including ruling out identifiable causes, assessing pulmonary function through tests such as computed tomography (CT) chest scans, pulmonary function tests and conducting simple exercise walk tests to evaluate lung function under stress.

“Treatment strategies for pulmonary fibrosis focus on minimizing inflammation and slowing the progression to fibrosis. While there currently is no known cure, supportive care measures can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. These may include supplemental oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation programs and vaccination against respiratory infections to prevent complications. In severe cases where lung function continues to decline despite treatment, bilateral lung transplant may be considered as a potential cure. However, this option is reserved for select individuals and comes with its own set of challenges and risks,” Orr stated.

Facing pulmonary fibrosis can feel overwhelming, but no one should navigate this journey alone. A wealth of resources, including support groups and mentor programs, exists to provide guidance and encouragement to those affected by this condition. Engaging with a supportive community can help individuals with pulmonary fibrosis live fuller, healthier lives.

For more information or to make an appointment with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, call 865-980-5100.

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