September brings awareness to many different diseases and illnesses, one of which is pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease which causes damage and scarring to its tissue.
“Pulmonary fibrosis is abnormal scarring in the lung,” said Jared T. Hagaman, M.D. a Pulmonary doctor with Ephraim McDowell Pulmonology.
“There are many different forms and types of pulmonary fibrosis,” Hagaman said. “Those at risk include current and former smokers, those with occupational or environmental exposures such as asbestos, as well as those with autoimmune disease.”
The five main categories of identifiable causes of pulmonary fibrosis include: drug induced, radiation-induced, environmental, autoimmune and occupational. A recent study shows approximately 50,000 new cases of IPF (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) are diagnosed each year and as many as 40,000 Americans die from IPF yearly. Symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis include shortness of breath, an often dry and “hacking” cough, fatigue, unexplained weight loss, aching muscles and joints and widening and rounding of the tips of the fingers and toes. Medications used to treat pulmonary fibrosis depends on each individual case.
“For autoimmune diseases, we treat the underlying condition,” Hagaman said. “For other types, there are new ‘anti-fibrotic’ drugs that can prevent/limit progression.”
Although the severity of symptoms belonging to the disease differs for each patient, Hagaman said a patient diagnosed with the disease can still maintain a good quality of life. To do so, Hagaman suggests maintaining a good activity level, supplemental oxygen if blood oxygen levels are low and getting recommended vaccinations when required. Although about 20% of all cases are hereditary, Hagaman said most cases are not.
“Most causes of pulmonary fibrosis tend not to be hereditary, but rather sporadic,” Hagaman said. “For the few that are hereditary, early detection through Xray or CT scan is helpful.”
In fact, Hagaman also said pulmonary fibrosis can also lead to other health conditions if left untreated.
“Pulmonary Fibrosis can cause associated conditions such as pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in the lungs, worsening of a patient’s shortness of breath, and decreased exercise tolerance,” Hagaman said. “The best way to avoid pulmonary fibrosis is to avoid exposures to substances such as asbestos or silica dust and avoid smoking.”
If a patient is concerned about symptoms they are experiencing, Hagaman said they should reach out to their primary care physician or a pulmonary specialist.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (859) 239-5860.