Pulmonary fibrosis is a medical condition that is characterized by scarring of the lung. This article provides information about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for this condition.
Interstitial pulmonary fibrosis is a form of interstitial lung disease. It is a medical condition that is associated with thickening and scarring of alveoli and interstitial tissues in the lungs. The term ‘alveoli’ refers to the tiny air sacs that play an important role in the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide. These are lined with interstitial tissues.
As the scarring of the lungs continues with the progression of this disease, the lung tissues become very stiff, and the alveoli and the lung capillaries become distorted. The ‘interstitium’ or the in-between spaces in the lungs get adversely affected. As the alveoli lose their elasticity and the connective tissues thicken, the lungs are unable to perform their function properly. This gives rise to breathing problems.
One of the common causes of this lung disease is prolonged exposure to certain environmental pollutants like asbestos and silica. Those who work in mines or factories and are exposed to toxic industrial gases such as chlorine and sulfur dioxide and organic/inorganic dust are at an increased risk of developing this condition. Lung infections caused due to diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis can also be responsible for the scarring of the interstitial tissues.
Those diagnosed with diseases such as scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, acid reflux disease, and sarcoidosis could develop this condition. Medicines such as nitrofurantoin, sulfasalazine, amiodarone, bleomycin, and cyclophosphamide methotrexate can also act as triggers. This condition might also develop in people undergoing radiation therapy for the treatment of lung cancer or breast cancer. This condition could also be idiopathic.
The most common symptom of this condition is shortness of breath. When the lungs lose their elasticity and the tissues that line the alveoli become scarred, the transfer of oxygen from the air to the blood doesn’t occur properly. As a result, the affected person may feel fatigued and also experiences breathing problems. Shortness of breath is commonly experienced when the person performs any physical activity. Chest discomfort, uneasiness, dry or hacking cough, weight loss, loss of appetite, joint pain, and muscle pain might also be experienced by the patient.
As the symptoms mimic many lung diseases, several diagnostic tests such as chest X rays, bronchoscopy, oximetry, lung function tests, high resolution computerized tomography, etc., might be conducted to ascertain is a person is affected by this condition or not. The life expectancy for people with this disease will depend on the underlying cause of the disease and the rate at which the disease seems to be progressing in the patient. Life expectancy is higher, if the disease is diagnosed at an early stage.
Since this disease can be caused due to exposure to toxic gases or other environmental pollutants, those working in mines and industries need to be very careful. If left untreated, it could give rise to several complications such as respiratory failure, pulmonary hypertension, and hypoxemia. If this condition has been triggered by a disease, the underlying condition must be treated.
Generally, anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to reduce the inflammation, and corticosteroids might also be prescribed to slow down the scarring of the lungs. In case of severe scarring and inflammation, lung transplantation might be recommended. Oxygen therapy might be required for those affected by shortness of breath.
If left untreated, pulmonary fibrosis could give rise to serious complications. Therefore, medical help must be sought by anyone who has been experiencing the aforementioned symptoms. People from the high-risk groups, that is, people who work in industries where there’s a risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals or gases, need to be extremely cautious.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.