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Pulmonary Fibrosis

Pulmonary Fibrosis
Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition that involves heavy scarring of the lungs. As the damage accumulates, the lung tissue becomes thicker and harder, making it more difficult for the lungs to pass oxygen into the bloodstream. Pulmonary fibrosis is a serious and lifelong lung disease, and the damage to the lungs gradually gets worse over time.  

Causes of Pulmonary Fibrosis 

Like many other pulmonary conditions, pulmonary fibrosis can be caused by many environmental or even genetic factors, such as: 

  • Smoking 
  • Working around dust or fumes 
  • Additional medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis or a viral infection 
  • Radiation exposure  
  • Certain medications such as chemotherapy drugs and some anti-inflammatory medications 

In some cases, the cause of pulmonary fibrosis is entirely unknown. This is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.  

What Are the Signs of Pulmonary Fibrosis? 

The symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis may present themselves differently in each person, and can often be confused with symptoms of common treatable conditions.  

Some signs of pulmonary fibrosis include: 

  • Difficulty breathing and breathing in shallow spurts 
  • Dry, persistent cough 
  • Fatigue 
  • Aches and pains in the muscles and joints 
  • Unexplained weight loss 
  • Shortness of breath, especially during exercise 
  • Clubbing (the widening of the fingertips and toes) and cyanosis (bluish skin) in severe cases 

Diagnosing Pulmonary Fibrosis 

As with most lung conditions, the diagnosis for pulmonary fibrosis will begin with your healthcare provider asking about your medical history and symptoms as well as performing a physical examination. Because pulmonary fibrosis can easily be confused with other, more common lung diseases, additional tests may be ordered to confirm a diagnosis.  

Tests could include: 

  • Imaging tests such as a chest X-ray or CT scan 
  • Pulmonary function tests or breathing tests 
  • Blood tests to rule out other causes 
  • An oxygen desaturation study to measure blood oxygen levels 
  • Biopsy 

How is Pulmonary Fibrosis Treated? 

Pulmonary fibrosis cannot be cured or reversed. However, seeking proper diagnosis and treatment early can help preserve lung function for longer and reduce symptoms to improve quality of life.  

Treatments that a provider may recommend include: 

  • Medications to slow lung scarring 
  • Oxygen therapy to make breathing easier 
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation (special exercise program) 
  • A lung transplant  

Pulmonary fibrosis is a leading indication for lung transplants in the United States. Tampa General Hospital’s lung transplant team has treated numerous patients with pulmonary fibrosis and other conditions. TGH evaluates each patient’s transplant eligibility on an individual basis, using information from physician referrals, evaluations, test and other factors.