Facts about Pulmonary Fibrosis
Pulmonary fibrosis is scarring in the lungs. The scarring causes the lung tissue to thicken and become stiff. This restricts the amount of oxygen that passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. This disease is most common in people 50 years of age and older; however, it has been diagnosed in infants and children.
In most cases, the exact cause is never found. Some known causes include exposure to airborne toxins such as asbestos, grain dust, silica dust and animal feces. Radiation therapy and some chemotherapy drugs as well as other lung diseases, such as pneumonia, can also cause pulmonary fibrosis in some people. When there is no clear association with another disease, it is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. One type is known to run in families and; therefore, is thought to be hereditary.
There are often no symptoms of this disease until it is in the moderate to advanced stages. The main symptom is shortness of breath. As the disease progresses, an individual may experience a chronic, dry cough, weakness and fatigue, chest pain, loss of appetite and weight loss. Simple activities, such as getting dressed, may cause breathlessness. The severity of the symptoms varies from one individual to another. In some people, the disease becomes severe quickly while others may experience moderate symptoms that may worsen over a period of months or years.
Diagnosing Pulmonary Fibrosis
Diagnosis is often difficult. Chest x-rays may show scarring of the lungs; however, in some cases it does not and further testing is required. A high resolution CT scan can show the patterns of some types of this disease and may be useful in showing the amount of damage to the lung. In some cases, a tissue sample from the lung may be necessary. A biopsy of the sample can often help the doctor make a definitive diagnosis..
Treatment options will depend on the type of pulmonary fibrosis that is diagnosed. Treatment with medications, in some cases, can slow the progress of the disease and may improve the symptoms and; therefore, the individual's quality of life. There is; however, no evidence that medications will help people who have the idiopathic form of this disease. Other treatment options include oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation and, as a last resort in younger people, a lung transplant. Scarring of the lung is permanent and cannot be reversed. Individual's who have had this disease for a long time have a higher risk of developing lung cancer.
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