What's In This Article
Many people living with interstitial lung disease often wonder about their interstitial lung disease life expectancy. Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is a category of chronic lung conditions that affect the interstitium.
More than 200 types of interstitial lung diseases exist, such as pulmonary fibrosis. Many factors go into interstitial lung disease life expectancy.
Here is the information you need to live the best life possible.
What is Interstitial Lung Disease?
As we mentioned before, there are more than 200 types of interstitial lung diseases, and they affect the interstitium. The interstitium is a lace-like network of tissues that flow throughout the lungs.
It provides support to the tiny air sacs or alveoli. Tiny blood vessels travel through the interstitium. These blood vessels allow 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 people with interstitial lung disease, the interstitium thickens from scarring, extra fluid or inflammation. Interstitial lung disease affects everyone differently and progresses at varying rates. In general, ILD causes scarring of the lungs’ delicate tissues and lung stiffness.
What Causes Interstitial Lung Disease?
Some doctors broadly categorize ILD into known and unknown causes. Some of the known causes include environmental factors, having certain autoimmune disorders and taking certain medications.
Interstitial lung disease may develop from autoimmune disorders, including scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome.
A type of bronchiolar disorder called bronchiolitis can also cause ILD. In addition, some medications may cause ILD. These medications include cytotoxins, certain antibiotics, statins and some antiarrhythmic medications.
Environmental factors that can cause ILD include long-term exposure to asbestos, silica dust, coal dust, cigarette smoke and radiation therapy to the chest.
Sometimes, ILD doesn’t have a known cause. In that case, interstitial lung disease is called idiopathic or without a known cause. The most common type of idiopathic ILD is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Other types of ILD of unknown cause include idiopathic interstitial pneumonias and sarcoidosis.
Interstitial Lung Disease Symptoms:
The type and severity of interstitial lung disease symptoms varies. ILD includes many different pulmonary disorders, and some symptoms may vary based on an individual condition. However, there are some common symptoms, which include:
- Dry cough
- Weight loss
- Acute pneumonia
- Cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin)
- Shortness of breath at rest or during exertion
In general, symptoms develop and progress gradually. At first, people with ILD experience shortness of breath after physical activity before other symptoms.
Eventually, they will have trouble breathing while at rest. Life expectancy with interstitial lung disease varies from person to person. For some people, ILD develops rapidly. ILD will progress over time, but early diagnosis and treatment can help.
How is Interstitial Lung Disease Diagnosed?
Interstitial lung disease can be challenging to diagnose. Other conditions mimic or have similar symptoms, so doctors must rule out those conditions before making an ILD diagnosis. Your doctor may recommend that you have a chest x-ray, CT scan, echocardiogram, pulmonary function tests or lung tissue analysis.
Chest x-rays show structural changes to the lungs and track disease progression. CT scans and high-resolution CT scans display detailed images of the lungs and can reveal fibrosis in the lungs.
Heart problems are often associated with pulmonary conditions. An echocardiogram can help your doctor assess your heart and any abnormal pressures inside it.
Specific lung function testing, such as pulmonary function tests, helps doctors diagnose lung disease, measure its severity and develop a treatment plan.
For some people, lung tissue analysis may be needed. For this procedure, a small tissue sample is taken from your lungs and analyzed in a lab.
Interstitial Lung Disease Life Expectancy
Interstitial lung disease life expectancy is different for everyone. ILD is a progressive disease, and there isn’t a cure. Some forms of ILD have staging systems. Staging systems exist for pulmonary fibrosis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Typically, doctors place lung diseases into stages to help them understand the severity of the lung disease. Sometimes, this helps doctors better estimate the life expectancy of someone with chronic lung disease, including interstitial lung disease life expectancy.
Treatments for Interstitial Lung Disease
Treatments for ILD depend on what specific type of ILD someone has and what symptoms are present. For example, people with pulmonary fibrosis or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis may take medications to reduce inflammation, suppress the immune system and slow the development of fibrotic tissue.
Often, doctors prescribe oxygen therapy to help people maintain better blood oxygen levels. For severe cases, lung transplantation surgery may be recommended.
For some people, adding natural treatments to their current treatment plan has helped. These types of treatments can include dietary supplements, herbs and gentle exercise.
Christine Kingsley, APRN is the Health and Wellness Director at the Lung Institute where she focuses on providing helpful online resources for people looking for information on various lung diseases, breathing exercises, and healthy lifestyle choices. She advocates for holistic care that involves working with your doctor to explore all options including traditional and alternative care while focusing on diet and exercise as proactive measures.