Pulmonary fibrosis is composed of two words. Pulmonary means lung while fibrosis means scar tissue. Much similar to scars forming on the skin after an injury or surgery. So, in simple words pulmonary fibrosis or PF is actually scarring in the lungs.
Over time the scarred tissues block oxygen movement from inside the tiny air sacs inside the lungs. Low oxygen levels due to stiff scar tissues can cause people with PF to have shortness of breath while walking or doing some exercise.
What is pulmonary fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis affects the respiratory system and is quite fatal for the lungs. A person with PF has scarred and thickened lung tissues. This impacts the connecting tissue in the alveoli (air sacs inside the lungs) and lungs.
And over time the damage to the lungs worsens. The tissues become hard and stiff. This reduces their ability to expand, making breathing a turmoil. If you are suffering from pulmonary fibrosis you might feel short of breath in doing daily simple tasks.
Why Is Pulmonary Fibrosis Termed As A Terminal Illness?
The reason for this is healthcare providers classify pulmonary fibrosis as a terminal illness. PF is a processing disease and worsens with time. As there is no cure, it eventually takes the life of the person.
As to how long a person can live with PF, depends on many factors. The disease’s progress differs from person to person. In some it progresses within months and in some it progresses slowly over years. Though research is continuing on finding ways to improve and new medications do help in slowing the progress, complete treatment is still an issue.
How Is Pulmonary Fibrosis Diagnosed?
To diagnose whether you have PF or not your doctor will want to review your and your family’s medical history. Your doctor will want to discuss the signs and symptoms to know about your condition.
And if you have had any sort of exposure to any chemical, dust or gasses. For this a physical examination will be required. Your doctor will want to listen to your breathing to know your lungs condition. If they suspect any abnormality, you might be required to take one or more of the below said tests:
- Chest X-ray
- Computerized tomography
- Lung function tests
- Pulmonary function test
- Pulse oximetry
- Exercise dress test
- Arterial blood gas test
- Blood tests
- Surgical biopsy
- Tissue sample or biopsy
Symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis
As said above, PF progresses differently in every person. Matter of fact, some common treatable conditions that cause similar symptoms. Though at times these symptoms can be because of an upper respiratory infection or just a common cold.
The symptoms might include:
- Shallow spurts
- Short breaths
- Dry cough that doesn’t heal
- Extreme tiredness
- Loss of weight that has no explanation
If you are suffering from PF, then as the disease progresses, you might experience these symptoms as well:
- Fingertips or different looking toes (they might become more rounder or wider)
- Cyanosis or bluish skin in fair-skin people
- Gray or white skin in dark skin people because of too little oxygen flowing in the blood.
How Is Pulmonary Fibrosis Treated?
Even though research and studies are being conducted on finding a cure, so far there is no such cure for PF. Current medications are only able to slow down the progress and relieve the symptoms in some. The treatment helps you to stay active and remain healthy for as long as possible.
Possible Medications You Might Be Prescribed
Nowadays newer medications are available. They can help in slowing the progress of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
If you are suffering from gastroesophageal (GERD), your doctor might prescribe you anti-acid medicine. GERD is a digestive problem that idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis people suffer at times.
Oxygen therapy is also quite helpful. It makes breathing and doing exercise easier. Lessens/prevents complications from low oxygen levels in the blood flow. Reduces blood pressure in the right side of the heart. Improves your sleep. You can use the therapy while sleeping or exercising. Though some people prefer to carry an oxygen canister as it’s more mobile and lets them do their daily routine.
Pulmonary rehabilitation helps you manage your symptoms. It also helps in improving your ability to function daily.
Pulmonary rehabilitation focuses on:
- Physical exercise so your endurance ability improves
- Breathing techniques to improve your lungs efficiency
- Nutritional counseling and support
Lung transplant is another option your doctor might suggest. Lung transplant is a possible treatment for pulmonary fibrosis. Though lung transplant is a surgery and can make anyone worry. But a lung transplant can help you improve your quality of life. The transplant can help you live a longer life. However, complications like your body rejecting the lung or getting an infection, are possibilities you might face. Therefore you should discuss thoroughly with your doctor on whether lung transplant will suit you or not.
Can I Have A Good Quality Life With Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Even though pulmonary fibrosis isn’t curable, there are some ways you can maintain and live a good quality and healthy life.
You can follow these rules, rather implant them in your daily life:
- Eat a proper nutritional diet
- Stay active
- Reduce your stress levels
- Protect your lungs from harmful dust and chemicals
- If you are suffering from any side effects, try to manage them
- Manage exacerbations which happens when PF worsens
A person diagnosed with PF will have to face the thought of making difficult decisions. You and your family will have to plan on the future and possibilities of death. Determining the exact time a person with PF could have is not possible. But based on the medical reports your doctor has, you might get a rough graph of your health. But remember it’s only a guess. The progress differs from person to person.
Your health will evaluate your future. The healthier you manage to stay, the longer time you’ll have to live. It’s suggested you let your wishes be known to your family and complete as many as you can or are possible.