Pulmonary Fibrosis Overview
Pulmonary Fibrosis occurs when the lung tissues become scarred and damaged. When this tissue becomes tough and thick, it is very difficult to breathe. Breathing will become more difficult as symptoms progress. This lung damage cannot be repaired and is usually caused from another health condition that may not be evident.
Pulmonary Fibrosis Symptoms
The severity of symptoms will vary between each different person, depending on overall health, age, and various other factors. Some people will have symptoms occur slowly over time, while other may experience symptoms very quickly. Most symptoms include: shortness of breath, weight loss, fatigue, dry cough, clubbing of fingers and toes, and aching muscle and joints.
In some cases, people will experience acute exacerbation, which will last for several days or even weeks. These patients will likely be placed on a mechanical ventilator.
Pulmonary Fibrosis Causes
Pulmonary Fibrosis typically appears as a result of another health problem. The damage to the air sacs of the lungs can be a result of long-term exposure to many irritants, medical conditions, or radiation. There are many occupational factors that may damage your lungs, including: animal droppings, hard metal dust, asbestos fibers, coal dust, grain dust, or silica dust. These various particles can irritate your lungs, if you work or live in an environment where these are very evident.
Pulmonary Fibrosis is also common in those that have received radiation therapy for cancer, such as breast cancer. These symptoms can occur any time after treatment; sometimes it may take years to see the damage. How much damage occurs depends on the severity of the treatment, such as if there is already underlying lung disease, amount of chemotherapy used, total amounts of radiation, and how much of the lungs were exposed.
There are also many medications that can damage your lungs, which will lead to pulmonary fibrosis as well. These medications include: chemotherapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, heart medications, and some antibiotics.
Lastly, there are other medical conditions that can cause lung damage. These include: pneumonia, polymyositis, scleroderma, sarcoidosis, dermatomycosis, mixed connective tissue disorder, and systemic lupus erythematosus. In most cases of pulmonary fibrosis, the cause of the disease is never truly found.
Pulmonary Fibrosis Risk Factors
There are many factors that will make you more likely to have pulmonary fibrosis. Most people that are middle-aged to older adults are more likely to have pulmonary fibrosis. While the disease has been found in people of all ages, this age group is the most likely to have it. Men are also more likely to have it then women. Smoking is also a huge risk factor, as smokers and former smokers are more likely to have pulmonary fibrosis. As most of the causes come from work environments, there is an increased risk if you work in a place with these various dust particles. There is also a higher risk for people that have been through cancer treatments. Some various types of pulmonary fibrosis can also be passed on through genetics.
Pulmonary Fibrosis Complications
There are many complications that go along with pulmonary fibrosis. This disease may lead to other lung problems, such as a collapsed lung, lung infections, lung cancer, respiratory failure, or a blood clot in the lung. There are also many complications that have to do with your heart, such as high blood pressure in your lungs, or right-sided heart failure.
Pulmonary Fibrosis Diagnosis
To begin the diagnosis, your physician will perform a physical examination, and will also investigate your health history. Keep track of your signs and symptoms so that you can let your physician know how you have been feeling. Your physician may also recommend a variety of tests, from imaging tests, lung function tests, blood tests, or biopsies.
There are three main imaging tests that may be recommended for you. A chest x-ray will show images of your chest, which may show the scar tissue from pulmonary fibrosis, or may be useful in monitoring other illnesses. In some cases, your physician may also request a CT scan or an echocardiogram.
Lung function test may also be conducted. A test called spirometry requires you to breathe in and out on a machine. It will test the lung volumes. A pulse oximetry will be placed on one of your fingers to measure the amount of oxygen that is in your blood.
In some cases, your physician may ask for a biopsy, where they will remove a small portion of your lung, so they can diagnose pulmonary fibrosis, or other conditions.
Lastly, sometimes a blood test may be best to check your liver and kidney functions and to see if there are any other health problems that are occurring.
Pulmonary Fibrosis Treatments
Since the lung damage that occurs with pulmonary fibrosis cannot be reversed, your physician will prescribe medications that will help to improve your symptoms. These are not made to reverse or slow down progression of the disease, but just to temporarily make you feel better. In extreme cases, your physician may recommend a lung transplant.
Oxygen therapy may also be recommended. While it will not help your lung damage at all, it will bring many other health benefits to you. It may make breathing and exercising easier. It may prevent complications from low blood oxygen levels. This will also aid in reducing the blood pressure in the right side of your lungs.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is also a great system in which you will learn how to manage symptoms and live a better life. This program will teach you about your condition, nutrition, breathing techniques, exercises, and will offer counseling and support.
There are also many home remedies that may help your symptoms. If you are currently a smoker, then you will need to quit immediately. If you have been unsuccessful in quitting, then ask for help from your pulmonologist. Be sure to take time to get plenty of rest. Eating well and exercise are also very important. While you may not feel up for strenuous exercise, a short walk around the neighborhood will make all the difference in how you feel.