Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) is a condition wherein excessive growth of scar tissue (fibrosis) occurs in the lungs. This invariably affects the ability to breathe normally, such as in instances of pleural effusion. Also Read: Pleural Effusion, Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
In a healthy person, the lungs draw in oxygen, which is distributed via tiny air sacs to the bloodstream and eventually, to other organs in the body, for performing vital functions.
However, in an individual with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, very thick scar tissues form in the lungs, obstructing the flow of oxygen to the blood and leads to severe respiratory difficulties.
Currently, there is no effective cure available for IPF. Treatment strategies focus on reducing the damage to lungs, managing painful symptoms and if feasible, undergoing a lung transplant.
IPF is an example of interstitial lung disease. This implies that the disorder arises primarily only in the interstitium – the tissue and space surrounding the air sacs of the lungs and does not spread to the blood vessels or air passages.
The exact cause of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is yet to be identified. Hence the term idiopathic is used to describe the ailment, which means of an unknown reason.
Certain qualities and pre-existing health anomalies make a person more prone to acquiring idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. These include:
In the majority of cases, IPF happens in those who are 50 years or older.
IPF is much more likely to develop in men than in women.
Having an addiction to inhaling tobacco increases the chances of IPF. Also Read: How Smoking Damages The Lungs
IPF can afflict a person who has one or more family members with comparable lung diseases.
Many people with an underlying problem of acid reflux are predisposed to IPF.
Constant exposure and inhalation of wood and metallic dust, either at work or at home, also lead to IPF.
The characteristic indications of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis comprise two common attributes:
- A feeling of breathlessness i.e. dyspnea
- Chronic dry cough
Other signs of IPF are:
- Severe pain in the chest
- Sudden weight loss
- Lowered appetite
- A minor change in the shape of fingers, known as clubbing
- Feeling very exhausted and drained of energy
Diagnosis And Treatment
The doctor initially conducts a thorough physical examination, checking the lungs for any abnormalities. He or she will also review the person’s medical history, contact with toxic chemical fumes and smoking habits, if any, to see if the factors contributing to pulmonary fibrosis can be identified.
Other laboratory tests, such as chest X-ray, CT scan, bronchoscopy, blood profile and lung biopsy are also taken, to determine the nature and extent of interstitial lung disease in the individual.
Once the diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is confirmed in the patient, appropriate treatment measures are initiated.
Treatment usually involves prescription drugs and corticosteroids, to decrease inflammation in the pulmonary tissues and significantly slow down scarring in the lungs. It also utilises oxygen therapy techniques and pulmonary palliative care, to help regain optimal breathing functions in the lungs and improve respiratory health.