The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a subset of interstitial lung disease (ILD), a general category that includes various lung conditions. These disorders affect the absorption of oxygen into the lungs and impede normal breathing. Pulmonary fibrosis, like other interstitial lung diseases, affect the interstitium, the lace-like network of tissues that provides support to the lungs’ tiny air sacs, or alveoli. Tiny blood vessels travel through the interstitium, allowing gas exchange between the blood and lungs. Normally, the interstitium is too delicate to be seen in a chest x-ray or CT scan, but interstitial lung diseases like pulmonary fibrosis cause the interstitium to thicken due to scarring, extra fluid or inflammation. If you suspect you or someone you know may suffer from such a malady, it’s important to know how to identify pulmonary fibrosis symptoms.
What is pulmonary fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that scars the lungs’ intricate pulmonary passageways, causing them to thicken and harden, and obstructing the free passage of oxygen into the bloodstream. The resulting low level of oxygen in the blood renders people with pulmonary fibrosis short of breath, even after periods of prolonged rest. Pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive disease that varies in the rate of degeneration from person to person. Some autoimmune disorders, specifically connective tissue disorders like rheumatoid arthritis can instigate interstitial lung disease. However, before we get to symptoms, let’s identify some external factors that may increase the risk of pulmonary fibrosis:
- Cigarette smoking
- Certain viral infections
- Exposure to environmental pollutants, including silica and hard metal dusts, bacteria and animal proteins, and gases and fumes
- The use of certain medicines
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a form of pulmonary fibrosis with no known cause. Regardless of the cause, scarring of the lungs is irreversible.
How to Identify Pulmonary Fibrosis Symptoms
The type, severity and progression of pulmonary fibrosis symptoms vary by individual person. However, there are some common and shared pulmonary fibrosis symptoms, such as shortness of breath and a dry cough.
Other pulmonary fibrosis symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
- Abnormal enlargement of the fingernail base
- Acute pneumonia
Typically, these symptoms develop and progress gradually over the course of many months or years. When you’re learning how to identify pulmonary fibrosis symptoms, it’s important to keep in mind that the first symptom people with pulmonary fibrosis usually experience is shortness of breath after physical activity. From there symptoms progressively worsen. Because of the gradual onset of pulmonary fibrosis, many people don’t seek treatment for their symptoms until they become debilitating. Despite its progressive nature, early pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis and treatment can help people maximize their quality of life.
What You Can Do About Pulmonary Fibrosis Progression
Treatment options are available. Receiving a diagnosis and starting a treatment plan as soon as possible is key to living the best life possible with pulmonary fibrosis. Traditional treatments are aimed at improving symptoms and slowing interstitial lung disease progression. Doctors may prescribe medications and inhalers to reduce inflammation, and medications to slow the progression of pulmonary fibrosis. Some doctors may recommend oxygen therapy to help patients receive adequate amounts of oxygen. For some, doctors may recommend a lung transplant procedure.
Alternative treatments are also available for people with pulmonary fibrosis. Stem cell therapy is helping some people regain their quality of life by breathing more easily. In fact, many patients are able to lead a more active lifestyle. If you or a loved one suspects pulmonary fibrosis, pneumoconiosis or another chronic lung disease, and would like to learn more about stem cell treatment options, contact us at (800) 729-3065.