The official blog of the Lung Institute.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a chronic lung disease, such as pulmonary fibrosis, you probably have lots of questions about your diagnosis and treatment. Pulmonary fibrosis and other chronic lung diseases are progressive, meaning the disease worsens over time. Finding the right pulmonary fibrosis treatment plan is essential to maintaining and improving your quality of life. Here are a few facts on pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis and treatment and what to expect to help you be informed and proactive in your healthcare.
What will your doctor want to know to help make a pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis and treatment plan?
Your doctor will want to know if you:
- Have a history of smoking
- Have been exposed to secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes or dust
- Experience shortness of breath, chronic cough or lots of mucus
- Have family members who have had pulmonary fibrosis
What is a pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that scars the lungs, causing intricate pulmonary passageways to thicken and harden, obstructing the free passage of oxygen through the walls of the lungs’ tiny air sacs (alveoli) into the bloodstream. The resulting lack of oxygen in the bloodstream leaves pulmonary fibrosis sufferers 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.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a subset of a group of conditions referred to as interstitial lung disease, a set of lung conditions that lead to inflammation or scarring of the lung’s delicate tissues. Some autoimmune disorders, specifically connective tissue disorders like rheumatoid arthritis can cause interstitial lung disease.
External factors that may increase the risk of pulmonary fibrosis include:
- 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. Scarring of the lungs is irreversible.
How does the doctor diagnose pulmonary fibrosis?
In the process of diagnosing pulmonary fibrosis, a doctor will ask about the patient’s symptoms and medical history, conduct a physical exam and perform breathing tests. The most common breathing test used to verify a pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis is spirometry. A pulmonary function test, such as the spirometry test, is a common office test that is used to assess how well your lungs are working by measuring how much air you inhale and exhale, and how quickly you exhale. Spirometry is used to diagnose asthma, pulmonary fibrosis and other diseases that affect breathing. This simple and painless test involves breathing into a large hose connected to a spirometer, a machine that measures how much air your lungs hold and how fast you can blow as much of the air out of your lungs as possible.
What can you expect for a spirometry test?
According to the National Library of Health, in a seated spirometry test, you breathe into a mouthpiece that is connected to an instrument called a spirometer. The spirometer records the amount and the rate of air that you breathe in and out over a period of time. The most important issue is to perform the test always while in the same position.
Before you do a spirometry test, a nurse, a technician or your doctor will give you specific instructions. Listen carefully and ask questions if something is not clear. Doing the test correctly is necessary for accurate and meaningful results.
For some of the test measurements, you can breathe normally. Other tests require forced inhalation or exhalation after a deep breath. Sometimes you will be asked to inhale a substance or a medicine to see how it changes your test results. The entire process takes less than 15 minutes to perform. The results of your spiromentry test will help your doctor decide on a pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis and treatment.
What do the results mean for pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis and treatment?
The spirometry test will provide you and your doctor with a number of values that your doctor will explain. These values are based on age, height, ethnicity and gender. Results are displayed as a percentage. Any value under 80 percent is considered abnormal and may indicate the presence of lung disease.
According to a post by the Mayo Clinic, key measurements from a spirometry test will include:
- Forced vital capacity (FVC): This is the largest amount of air that you can forcefully exhale after breathing in as deeply as you can. A lower than normal FVC reading indicates restricted breathing.
- Forced expiratory volume (FEV-1): This is how much air you can force from your lungs in one second. This reading helps your doctor assess the severity of your breathing problems. Lower FEV-1 readings indicate more significant obstruction.
Some lung diseases (such as emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis and infections) can make the lungs contain too much air and take longer to empty. This test will help determine if you are suffering from any of these conditions.
Pulmonary Fibrosis Diagnosis and Treatment
In addition to pulmonary function tests and spirometry, your doctor may also want you to have a chest x-ray and/or other tests, such as an arterial blood gas test, which measures the oxygen level in your blood to help with pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis and treatment. The arterial blood gas test shows how well your lungs are able to move oxygen into and carbon dioxide out of your blood. If you are diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, your doctor will most likely discuss a traditional treatment plan with you. Many doctors prescribe inhalers, steroids, oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation to their patients as part of their pulmonary fibrosis treatment plan.
It’s important to listen to a doctor’s advice, and it’s equally important that you seek a treatment that fits your lifestyle and has a good chance of providing you with the results you seek. Many patients have found alternative treatments, such as stem cell therapy, helpful to improve their breathing. If you or a loved one suffers from a progressive lung disease, the Lung Institute may be able to help. The Lung Institute uses your own body’s powerful stem cells to promote healing. Contact us today for a free consultation or call us at (800) 729-3065.