The official blog of the Lung Institute.
If you’re living with interstitial lung disease (ILD), you know how challenging it can be to have all of the interstitial lung disease facts. Having all of the information you need is important, so you can stay proactive in your healthcare. Interstitial lung disease is a broad group of lung diseases that make up more than 100 types of pulmonary disorders, which affect the absorption of oxygen into the lungs. For example, pulmonary fibrosis and pneumoconiosis are types of interstitial lung diseases. Because ILD affects everyone different and at different rates, it’s important to know the basic interstitial lung disease facts.
What is interstitial lung disease?
One of the most important interstitial lung disease facts is understanding what ILD is. All types of interstitial lung disease affect the interstitium, which is part of the lungs’ anatomic structure. The interstitium is a lace-like network of tissues that flows throughout the lungs and provides support to the tiny air sacs or alveoli. These tiny blood vessels travel through the interstitium, allowing gas to exchange between the blood and the air in the lungs. Normally, the interstitium is so thin that it cannot be seen on a chest x-ray or CT scan. In interstitial lung diseases, the interstitium becomes thickened, which can occur because of scarring, extra fluid or inflammation.
Because ILD affects the absorption of oxygen into the lungs, it’s difficult for people with interstitial lung disease to receive enough oxygen. Typically, the most common characteristic of interstitial lung disease is scarring of the lung’s delicate tissues, causing progressive lung stiffness.
What are the interstitial lung disease symptoms?
Understanding the interstitial lung disease facts also means having knowledge of the interstitial lung disease symptoms. The type, severity and progression of interstitial lung disease symptoms varies from person to person. While ILD is comprised of a variety of pulmonary disorders and some symptoms may vary based on individual conditions, there are some common symptoms shared by all interstitial lung diseases. These shared symptoms include the following:
- Weight loss
- Acute pneumonia
- Shortness of breath
- Dry, pestering cough
These symptoms develop and progress gradually and typically over the course of many months or years. Usually, people with ILD experience shortness of breath after physical activity before they have other symptoms. Eventually, many people with ILD have trouble breathing while at rest. Interstitial lung disease symptoms will progressively worsen over time. While interstitial lung disease is progressive and will worsen over time, early diagnosis and treatment can help people live the best life possible.
What causes interstitial lung disease?
There are many causes of interstitial lung disease, but sometimes there isn’t a known cause. In that case, ILD is known as idiopathic (or without a known cause). The most common form of idiopathic interstitial lung disease is pulmonary fibrosis. However, ILD can be caused by environmental factors, other disorders and even certain medications.
Bronchiolar disorders such as bronchiolitis can cause ILD. In fact, certain autoimmune diseases can also cause ILD, including lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome. Medications may cause ILD, too, and include cytotoxins, certain antibiotics, statins and some antiarrhythmics. Environmental factors, sometimes referred to as occupational lung disease, can cause ILD. These environmental factors include long-term exposure to asbestos, coal dust, silica dust, cigarette smoke and radiation therapy to the chest.
How is interstitial lung disease diagnosed?
Your doctor or pulmonologist will likely use chest x-rays, blood tests, CT scans, cardiopulmonary exercise testing, pulmonary function tests, a bronchoscopy or a minimally invasive biopsy. Once your doctor has the information he or she needs, your doctor will be able to provide a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Now that you know the interstitial lung disease facts, what can you do to breathe easier?
While it can be challenging to keep track of all the basic interstitial lung disease facts, having a good understanding of them can help you remain proactive in your healthcare. Even though interstitial lung disease is a progressive condition, meaning it will worsen over time, there are treatment options available. It’s important to receive a diagnosis and start your treatment plan as soon as possible. Simply put, interstitial lung disease treatments are aimed at improving symptoms and slowing interstitial lung disease progression.
Many doctors prescribe medications and inhalers to reduce inflammation as well as medications to slow interstitial lung disease progression. Some doctors may recommend oxygen therapy to help you receive enough oxygen. For some people, doctors may even recommend a lung transplant.
It’s important to follow the treatment plan that you and your doctor develop together, and it’s also important to learn more about alternative treatments, such as stem cell therapy. For some people with ILD, stem cell therapy has helped them improve their quality of life and breathe easier. In fact, many patients are able to lead a more active lifestyle and reduce their oxygen therapy use. If you or a loved one has interstitial lung disease, 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.