Pulmonary fibrosis

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Pulmonary fibrosis

Question

What is pulmonary fibrosis? Can it be treated?

No name
No state given

Answer

Pulmonary fibrosis leads to gradual scarring and thickening of the tissue (interstitium) between the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. As the disease progresses, this scar tissue impairs the transfer of oxygen from the alveoli into the blood. Many conditions can cause scarring (fibrosis) of the lungs. These include:

  • Inhaling asbestos fibers (asbestosis)
  • Inhaling silica dust (silicosis)
  • Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease
  • Scleroderma, a progressive disease that leads to hardening and scarring of the skin and connective tissues
  • Rheumatoid arthritis affecting the lungs
  • Certain medications
  • Smoking

Often the cause of pulmonary fibrosis can't be determined (idiopathic). Signs and symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis usually progress over several months or years and may include:

  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Dry cough
  • Chest discomfort
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

A doctor may confirm a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis by:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan of the lungs
  • Removal of lung tissue (biopsy) for examination under a microscope

No cure exists for pulmonary fibrosis. Treatment is directed at managing the signs and symptoms and may include:

  • Corticosteroid medications
  • Azathioprine (Imuran), an immunosuppressant and anti-inflammatory drug
  • Supplemental oxygen
  • Lung transplant

Last Updated: 01/23/2006
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