September is Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Month, a time to shed light on a disease best known for wearing a disguise. While considered rare, Pulmonary Fibrosis is a complex, incurable disease that accounts for more than 50% of all lung transplants in the United States. The term Pulmonary Fibrosis refers to the permanent and progressive scarring of the tissues within the lungs. This scarring causes the tissues to become thick and callus, impacting the body’s ability to pass oxygen into the bloodstream and impairing lung function.
One of the most challenging aspects of Pulmonary Fibrosis is that it often comes without cause or explanation, and in many cases it is misdiagnosed altogether (also called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis or IPF). Symptoms of IPF such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and dry cough are often masked by weight gain, other lung/heart disease or excused as simply “getting older.” Due to the veiled nature of the disease, it is often not properly identified until much later in its progression. While the diagnosis may be difficult, there are tools that can aid in early detection. Simple diagnostic tests, such as bedside spirometry, can be easily performed in a physician’s office and may highlight the need for further testing.
As symptoms continue to worsen, a pulmonologist will generally be consulted to review a patient’s medical history and order diagnostic tests such as:
- CT Scan/ X-ray
- Lung Biopsy
- Pulmonary function test
- Oxygen desaturation test
Once diagnosed the progression of the disease is equally as mysterious. Unlike many other chronic diseases, IPF does not have standard “staging.” Every patient experience is different in time as well as, severity of the symptoms and their impact, often leaving newly diagnosed patients with more questions than answers.
Since the progression of the disease cannot be predicted or stopped, establishing a treatment plan may also be complicated. Treatment for IPF should be tailored to a patient’s specific symptoms/severity and may include medication therapy, lung transplant, and supportive measures such as oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehab. Pulmonary rehab programs are aimed at maintaining patients’ activity levels and decreasing shortness of breath through physical condition and breathing exercises. Other focuses of pulmonary rehab include anxiety, stress and depression management, as well as nutritional counseling.
Dealing with IPF can be debilitating; however, being a part of a community geared toward empowering its members can be vital to a patient’s overall outlook and prognosis. As a healthcare provider, it is critical that we do the work of raising awareness, through education and engagement, to ultimately empower patients living with chronic illness such as IPF.
SuperCare Health is a respiratory care provider that delivers in-home respiratory therapies and care management sevices. Our proven solutions, like iBreathe, can provide support to patients with Pulmonary Fibrosis, COPD and other chronic respiratory conditions. Stay connected by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin.