If pulmonary fibrosis is detected too late, a lung transplant is often the last life-saving measure. What are the causes of the disease? What are the symptoms of those affected? And most importantly: Can the disease be cured??
The term pulmonary fibrosis covers more than 100 different lung diseases. However, all these diseases have the same consequence: too much connective tie, known as interstitium, forms between the smallest parts of the lungs, the alveoli. This means that the wall of the alveoli in the lungs becomes thicker and the blood of those affected can no longer be adequately oxygenated.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF): A rare form of pulmonary fibrosis with an often fatal outcome is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It is characterized by a steady decline in lung function. The disease is called "idiopathic" called, since the cause of its development is not known. All that is known is that in IPF there is a pathological change in the normal healing process of the lung after minor injuries at the cellular level.
What are the symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis?
The initial symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis are ambiguous. Irritable cough and lack of strength may have causes other than lung disease. However, the more pulmonary fibrosis progresses, the worse the symptoms become. Sufferers then experience shortness of breath even without physical exertion.
Diagnosis: How does the doctor diagnose pulmonary fibrosis??
To diagnose pulmonary fibrosis, a doctor first asks about lifestyle habits and previous illnesses in a medical history interview. During a physical examination, he then listens to the chest for sounds. If the patient hears a rattling sound towards the end of inhalation, this may be an indication of pulmonary fibrosis.
By means of a lung function test, the doctor can find out whether and to what extent the lung tie is damaged. Imaging procedures, such as a computed tomography scan, provide further information, as does a bronchoscopy.
What are the causes of pulmonary fibrosis?
About half of pulmonary fibrosis cases cannot be attributed to a definite cause. This type of disease is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
The other half may be due to a variety of causes, including infection, inhalation of fibers such as asbestos or quartz dust, or radiation for lung cancer.
Therapy: How does the doctor treat pulmonary fibrosis??
In the case of pulmonary fibrosis, the cause of which is known, this is first combated. This can mean that sufferers have to change jobs to avoid exposure to pollutants. In addition, anti-inflammatory medications, such as cortisone, help limit inflammation in the lungs. They can be taken in the form of tablets or by inhalation.
Doctors also prescribe preparations to dilate the bronchial tubes, so-called bronchodilators, in order to improve the self-cleaning of the mucous membrane. Antioxidant therapy can slow down further loss of lung function. Broad-spectrum antibiotics can also be used for bacterial infections.
Life expectancy: How long do patients with pulmonary fibrosis live??
The course and prognosis of the disease vary from person to person, so it is not possible to make a general statement about life expectancy. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in particular can be aggressive. Patients often also do not respond to medications. Life expectancy is then significantly shortened in many cases.
If the disease is too advanced and the lungs can no longer carry enough oxygen to the blood, a lung transplant may be necessary. The lack of oxygen in the blood is usually recognizable by a blue coloration of the lips and fingernails.
Prevention: What can affected persons do??
In addition to medications and surgical measures, the behavior of those affected also contributes to the success of treatment. Physical activity, such as pulmonary exercise and breathing training, helps use the remaining lung capacity more effectively.
Is pulmonary fibrosis curable??
The German Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine e.V. (DGP) calls pulmonary fibrosis a "very serious disease that leads to death in numerous cases".
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Pulmonary fibrosis cannot be cured. Lung tie that has already hardened too much cannot be converted into healthy tie. However, with therapy and patient self-management, progression can be slowed or even halted.
– German Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine e. V. – Pulmonary fibrosis e.V. – Own research