What is Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is also known as a group of diseases which further leads to interstitial lung damage and ultimately fibrosis & loss of the elasticity of the lungs. It is a chronic condition which is characterized by the shortness of breath.
There are more than 100 related diseases of the lung which are known as interstitial lung diseases (ILD), and pulmonary fibrosis is the most common of all the interstitial lung diseases (ILD).
Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition in which the lung tissue becomes thickened, stiff and scarred over a period of time. The development of the scar tissue is called fibrosis.
The lungs lose their ability to transfer oxygen into the bloodstream, as the lung tissue becomes scarred and thicker.
As a result, the brain and other organs don’t get enough oxygen which they need. The scarring generally starts at the edges of the lungs and progresses towards the centre making it more difficult to breathe.
What causes Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Typically, mild scarring of the lung tissue occurs first, but, over months and years, the normal lung tissue is replaced by more heavily scarred lung tissue, which makes it difficult to breathe and deliver needed oxygen to the body.
Even though the cause of pulmonary fibrosis is still being investigated, the following are considered to be risk factors for disease development:
- Viral Infections
- Exposure to dust / fumes and smoking
- Age or gender (diagnosis is more common in men and older people)
- Acid reflux from the stomach into the lungs
Pulmonary fibrosis affects each person differently and the disease progresses at varying rates. For some, the scarring occurs quickly, while in others, it happens over a longer period of time. Symptoms also differentiate from moderate to severe and may stay the same for a while.
How is Pulmonary Fibrosis diagnosed?
The diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis
can be very difficult as the cause is still not known. The symptoms are very much similar to those of other diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(COPD) and congestive heart failure. Additionally, pulmonary fibrosis can co-exist with these diseases..
To confirm the diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis, doctors must extract all known causes of fibrotic lung disease and therefore it will often take some time to explore and eliminate other possible diagnoses.
Confirming diagnosis of the disease may involve one or more of the following tests:
- Blood tests to extract other diseases
- PFT (Pulmonary Function Test) to measure breathing capacity
- X-ray and CT scan of your chest to find out the pattern of scarring in your lungs
- Lung cell sample by passing a bronchoscope down the breathing tubes in order to examine cells and look for signs of inflammation
- Lung biopsy
What are the symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis develop with time and may not be noticed until the disease is well established. As the disease can be developed later in the life, there is a common assumption that the breathlessness is just a part of middle age. If you feel breathless, you should see your doctor.
Symptoms may include:
- Dry cough (can be chronic, dry, hacking coughing).
- The shortness of breath, especially during or after physical activity.
- Lasting tiredness.
- Weight loss.
- Advancement of the fingertips and nails (a condition called clubbing).