What’s Pulmonary Fibrosis?

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Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that causes scarring of lung tissue, reducing oxygen transfer and causing breathing difficulties. Its exact cause is unknown, but factors include environmental pollutants, chronic disease, and some medications. There is no cure, but treatment options include medication and lung transplantation. Symptoms include shortness of breath and chronic cough.

Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that causes damage to lung tissue. In medical terms, the word pulmonary refers to the lungs and fibrosis means scarring. Aptly named, pulmonary fibrosis is the scarring of lung tissue. The exact cause of pulmonary fibrosis is unknown, but many factors have been linked to the development of the disease. The symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis mimic many other conditions and, therefore, may go undiagnosed in some people.

An estimated 40,000 people die of pulmonary fibrosis each year. The disease causes scarring in the lungs, which in turn makes the lung tissue thick and stiff. This reduces the amount of oxygen the lungs can transfer to the bloodstream and can make breathing difficult.

Factors contributing to the development of pulmonary fibrosis include environmental and occupational pollutants, such as asbestos, chronic disease, radiation therapy, and some medications. Some researchers have linked genetic factors to the disease, but much is still unknown. In some cases, patients have developed pulmonary fibrosis with no apparent cause.

Symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis include shortness of breath, especially with exertion, as well as chronic cough, chest pain, and discomfort. Because these symptoms are common to other disorders, pulmonary fibrosis is usually diagnosed based on a history of symptoms that have worsened. While diagnostic tests, such as pulmonary function tests, may reveal abnormalities, a lung biopsy can confirm the presence of fibrosis.

At present, there is no known cure for pulmonary fibrosis. Treatment options are limited as the scar is permanent. Existing treatment options may include lung transplantation or medications. Pulmonary fibrosis reduces blood oxygen levels and therefore many patients are treated with oxygen to prevent hypertension and relieve hypoxia. Other complications can result from pulmonary fibrosis, including an increased risk of blood clots, which is treated with a blood thinner.

Patients diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis should be treated by a pulmonary specialist who is experienced with the disease. Life expectancy varies according to the type and extent of fibrosis. While there is no cure for the disease, in many cases doctors can relieve symptoms with therapy and treatment.

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