(Image: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)
Pulmonary fibrosis is a rare lung disease resulting from damage or scarring to the lungs. As the lungs thicken and stiffen from fibrosis, breathing and your lungs ability to work properly will become more difficult. Though a plethora of risk factors are linked to the development of pulmonary fibrosis in most instances, the exact cause of the disease can’t be determined. This is known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and it’s the most commonly diagnosed type of the disease. About 50,000 people in the U.S. receive a pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis each year while around 40,000 Americans die from the disease yearly.
The most obvious symptom of pulmonary fibrosis is an increased shortness of breath. This shortness of breath is often also accompanied by a dry cough, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. Many patients also experience increased rounding or widening in the tips of their fingers and toes. Some of these symptoms are also signs of other conditions, including less serious illnesses. However, a combination of these symptoms, particularly when widening or rounding of finger and toe tips is present, point to pulmonary fibrosis.
Causes and Risk Factors
As we mentioned, multiple conditions, past medical treatments, and other hazards can lead to pulmonary fibrosis. The most identifiable causes include:
- Long-term exposure to occupational and environmental hazards such as silica dust, asbestos, coal or grain dust and animal droppings.
- Certain medical treatments and medications including radiation therapy and chemotherapy for lung or breast cancer. Some heart medications, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are also linked to lung damage.
- Medical conditions including
- Mixed connective tissue disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
Risk factors are different from causes. Causes, well actually cause the disease, while risk factors may increase your risk of developing a disease. Risk factors for pulmonary fibrosis include smoking, being a middle-aged or older male, holding certain occupations with high exposure to the aforementioned environmental hazards, and heredity. People with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) are also at a higher risk for developing PF.
Though lung damage cannot be reversed, proper treatment of pulmonary fibrosis may slow the progression of the disease and improve quality of life. Treatments for PF include medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation and lung transplant.
The best way to slow the progression of pulmonary fibrosis is to visit your physician immediately upon recognition of symptoms. If you feel you are at risk for this disease or may have symptoms associated with pulmonary fibrosis, request an appointment for a physical exam and consultation with EliteCare today.