The official blog of the Lung Institute.
An Introduction to Interstitial Lung Disease
Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) is a canopy term used to identify a family of roughly 100 different types of pulmonary disorders that affect the absorption of oxygen in the lungs. All of these disorders alter the interstitium, which is the tissue and space surrounding the alveoli—the cluster-like air sacs—of the lungs. Typically, the interstitium is not visible, but when an individual has interstitial lung disease, the interstitium becomes visible as a result of progressive scarring. This progressive scarring is characteristic of the whole family of disorders encompassed by interstitial lung disease such as pulmonary fibrosis. The scar tissue impedes the ability for oxygen to pass into the bloodstream from the lungs. As a result, sufferers of interstitial lung disease often have a subsequent dry, pestering cough and constantly feel short of breath.
Where Does ILD Come From?
There are a diverse number of potential causes of interstitial lung disease, however, many cases of ILD do not have a known cause; in these situations, the disease is called idiopathic interstitial lung disease. It is believed that interstitial lung disease occurs as a result of a typical healing process has gone wrong. Usually, when an injury affects your lungs, a healing response is triggered that helps your body generate the correct amount of tissue to make-up for the damage. But if you have ILD, the tissue around the alveoli becomes scarred and thickened, which in turn makes it difficult to breathe.
The scarring apparent in ILD can be instigated by multiple different triggers. One potential cause of ILD is long-term exposure to airborne toxins such as silica dust, Asbestos fibers, animal feces, radiation and more. Certain medical procedures such as radiation therapy for cancer can increase the risk of developing ILD, and other medical conditions—such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma—can cause lung damage as well. Furthermore, certain pharmaceutical treatments for other conditions can impact your risk of developing ILD. Many chemotherapies (like methotrexate and cyclophosphamide) used to kill cancer cells also damage the lungs. People taking medication to treat irregular heartbeats may be at an increased risk for ILD. And lastly, some antibiotic use—like Macrobid and Macrodantin—increase the probability of acquiring ILD.
What Can I Do if I Have ILD?
Unfortunately, interstitial lung disease is not curable, but that does not mean that the disease is untreatable. In fact, there are many potential treatments for interstitial lung disease as there are a variety of possible causes and prognoses. As an incurable disease, the treatment is not meant to make the disease disappear, but rather treatment can be used to improve a patient’s quality of life, to improve symptoms or to delay the progression of the disease.
Initially, many physicians prescribe a combination of medicines to suppress the immune system, but these have not proved to be successful in the long run. In these situations, patients often progress in disease severity. In order to help individuals struggling to breathe, supplemental oxygen can work to prevent shortness of breath and make life more comfortable. Occasionally, pulmonary rehabilitation and nutritional counseling are offered as a means of boosting a patient’s endurance. In the most severe cases, physicians may recommend a lung transplant, but this often has limited availability and extensive requirements for procedure eligibility. Thankfully, a new treatment using stem cells is available as a result of the work of a visionary group of physicians dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with lung disease.
In the case of interstitial lung disease, autologous stem cells are used, meaning the cells come from the patient’s own body. They can be found in the patient’s bone marrow and blood (venous tissue). Stem cells derived from venous tissue have the capability to form many types of differentiated cells. During the procedure, adult stem cells are extracted from bone marrow or blood, which requires special laboratory techniques.
After extraction, the stem cells are isolated. Finally, they are returned to the patient intravenously. The treatment is minimally invasive and typically an outpatient procedure. The procedure should be performed in a clinical setting under the supervision of a professional. It takes a physician that has sought specific training to perform stem cell therapy adequately and safely. If you would like to find out more about our available treatment options, please contact one of our patient care coordinators today at (800) 729-3065 to schedule a free consultation.