Interstitial lung disease
Interstitial lung disease
Interstitial (in-tur-STISH-ul) lung disease describes a large group of disorders, most of which cause progressive scarring of lung tissue. The scarring associated with interstitial lung disease eventually affects your ability to breathe and get enough oxygen into your bloodstream.
Interstitial lung disease can be caused by long-term exposure to hazardous materials, such as asbestos. Some types of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, also can cause interstitial lung disease. In most cases, however, the causes remain unknown.
Once lung scarring occurs, it's generally irreversible. Medications can slow the damage of interstitial lung disease, but many people never regain full use of their lungs. Lung transplants are an option for some people who have interstitial lung disease.
The primary signs and symptoms of interstitial lung disease are:
When to see a doctor
Interstitial lung disease seems to occur when an injury to your lungs triggers an abnormal healing response. Ordinarily, your body generates just the right amount of tissue to repair damage. But in interstitial lung disease, the repair process goes awry and the tissue around the air sacs (alveoli) becomes scarred and thickened. This makes it more difficult for oxygen to pass into your bloodstream.
Interstitial lung disease can be triggered by many different things — including airborne toxins in the workplace, drugs and some types of medical treatments. In most cases, the causes are unknown.
Occupational and environmental factors
Airways and air sacs of the lungs
Your bronchioles are some of the smallest airways in your lungs. Inhaled air passes through tiny ducts from the bronchioles into elastic air sacs (alveoli). The alveoli are surrounded by the alveolar-...
Factors that may make you more susceptible to interstitial lung disease include:
Interstitial lung disease can lead to a series of life-threatening complications, including:
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably first bring your symptoms to the attention of your family doctor. He or she may refer you to a pulmonologist — a doctor who specializes in lung disorders.
What you can do
It will help your doctor make a diagnosis if he or she can compare an old chest X-ray with the results of a current X-ray. The actual X-ray image is more important to your doctor than is the report alone. If your primary care physician had a chest X-ray done as part of your initial evaluation, bring that with you when you see a pulmonologist.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Identifying and determining the cause of interstitial lung disease can be extremely challenging. An unusually large number of disorders fall into this broad category. In addition, the signs and symptoms of a wide range of medical conditions can mimic interstitial lung disease, and doctors must rule these out before making a definitive diagnosis. Some of the following tests may be necessary.
Pulmonary function tests
Lung tissue analysis
A spirometer is a diagnostic device that measures the amount of air you're able to breathe in and out and the time it takes you to exhale completely after you take a deep breath. ...
Treatments and drugs
The lung scarring that occurs in interstitial lung disease can't be reversed, and no current treatment has proved effective in stopping the ultimate progression of the disease. Some treatments, though, may improve symptoms temporarily or slow the disease's progress. Others help improve quality of life.
You're most likely to receive oxygen when you sleep or exercise, although some people may use it round-the-clock.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Being actively involved in your own treatment and staying as healthy as possible are essential to living with interstitial lung disease. For that reason, it's important to:
Coping and support
Living with a chronic lung disease is emotionally and physically challenging. Your daily routines and activities may need to be adjusted, sometimes radically, as breathing problems worsen or health care needs take priority in your life. Feelings of fear, anger and sadness are normal as you grieve for the loss of your old life and worry about what's next for you and your family.
Share your feelings with your loved ones and your doctor. Talking openly may help you and your loved ones cope with the emotional challenges of your disease. In addition, clear communication will help you and your family plan effectively for your needs if your disease progresses.
You may also want to consider joining a support group, where you can talk to people who are facing challenges similar to yours. Group members may share coping strategies, exchange information about new treatment or simply listen as you express your feelings. If a group isn't for you, you may wish to talk with a counselor in a one-on-one setting.
Last Updated: 2011-07-09
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