Fibrosis is a condition that causes scarring of tissue. Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition that is related to scarring of the lung tissues. The scarring is permanent and thus reduces the functioning capacity of the lungs. The treatment thus involves slowing down the rate of scarring. This is a fatal condition with a life expectancy of just 3 to 5 years.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic condition. It involves swelling of the alveoli and interstitial tissues. In order to overcome the swelling the lungs start developing scars in the process of repairing themselves. This scarring causes the lungs to become stiffer and make it difficult to breath.
There are many factors that can lead to pulmonary fibrosis. Some of these factors include:
- Health Conditions such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, Rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, sarcoidosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, etc.
- Drugs such as heart medications to help treat irregular heartbeat, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, etc..
- Exposure to radiation therapy
- Exposure to silica dust, asbestos fibers, dust, poultry droppings, etc.
These factors tend to damage the lungs due to long term or high exposure. These diseases or toxins damage the alveoli and therefore reduce the oxygen diffusion capacity of the lungs.
Of all the symptoms, shortness of breath is the most common symptom of pulmonary fibrosis. This symptom is often overlooked as being a fitness issue or age-related problem. Thus, by the time one realizes, the scarring of lung tissues has spread manifold. Some of the other symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis include:
- Chronic complainer of dry cough
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Thick tissues at the base of the nails and toenails, i.e, digital clubbing
- Fine inspiratory crackles heard during auscultations
Diagnosis is based on physical examination and medical history. If one observes crackles on auscultations and blue fingernails due to reduced oxygen supply, the doctor may suggest further tests. These include:
- CT scans to observe chest
- X ray
- Pulmonary function test
- Lung biopsy will help confirm pulmonary fibrosis
The scarring of lung tissues cannot be reversed. However, the progress of the disease can controlled. Some of the treatment methods for pulmonary fibrosis include:
- Medications such as corticosteroid along with methotrexate or cyclosporine.
- Oxygen therapy that helps in making breathing easy, reduces blood pressure, improves sleep and reduce complications related to low oxygen levels in the body.
- The last option for people with pulmonary fibrosis is lung transplantation. This helps in living life normally.
The prognosis for pulmonary fibrosis is not very bright. Many people suffer from heart failure and pulmonary emboli. The life span of an affected person is about 3 to 5 years.
Fighting Back Pulmonary Fibrosis
Once diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, one cannot just let fate make its own way. One has to actively take initiative to fight back the symptoms and live as healthy as possible. In order to overcome the drawbacks of pulmonary fibrosis, one should follow some or most of the following tips:
- Quit Smoking. The first and foremost step to help curb the progress of the condition is to stop smoking immediately. If you cannot quit on your own, make sure you join a program that helps you overcome your addiction. Avoid moving around people who are smoking at work or during leisure time. Smoking is very harmful for lungs as such and turns out to be suicidal especially for a person suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.
- Next in line is eating a healthy diet. No more gorging on fast food and aerated drinks. Make sure you eat a fat-free, whole grain diet. Include lean meats, seafood, beans and peas in your diet. A low salt diet is also recommended as it will keep your blood pressure in check. Also eat smaller meals as it will help reduce the trouble of breathlessness on a full stomach.
- Keep a positive outlook towards life. Join yoga or try meditation techniques that helps keep the mind and body calm. These relaxing exercises will help make breathing easy and help oxygen reach each and every muscle of your body.
- Make sure you get vaccinated for respiratory illness as pulmonary fibrosis makes one prone to infections of the respiratory tract.
If the fibrosis continues even after treatment, then lung transplantation is the only option. Speak to a medical practitioner for more information.
Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: February 02, 2015