Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic disease. It causes inflammation and fibrosis (scarring) of tissue in the lungs. It occurs most often in people aged 50-70. There are various types with similar symptoms, but different response to treatment and outcomes.

  • Causes

    Idiopathic means the cause is not known.

    Researchers think that IPF is an exaggerated and uncontrolled inflammatory response. This produces the scar tissue. What starts the cycle is not known. Over time, scarring surrounds the thin walled air sacs in the lungs. This makes the tissue thicker and stiffer. As a result, breathing becomes difficult. The lungs gradually lose their ability to pass oxygen to the rest of the body.

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  • Definition

    Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic disease. It causes inflammation and fibrosis (scarring) of tissue in the lungs. It occurs most often in people aged 50-70.

    There are various types with similar symptoms, but different response to treatment and outcomes.

  • Diagnosis


    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. One or more of the following tests may be performed:

    • Chest x-ray
      or
      CT scan
      —to view the lungs and check for scarring
    • Pulmonary function tests
      —to measure the size and effectiveness of the lungs
    • Blood test—to tell how well the lungs are taking up oxygen
    • Exercise test
      on treadmill or stationary bicycle—to measure how well the lungs and heart work during physical activity
    • Bronchoalveolar lavage—fluid is put into the airways and then removed to study the cells and check for signs of inflammation
    • Lung biopsy
      —a small sample of lung tissue is removed and studied; usually required to confirm a diagnosis of IPF

  • Prevention

    There is no proven way to prevent IPF. However, avoiding smoking and wearing masks for work in some occupations may help.

  • Risk Factors


    IPFoccurs most often in males and people aged 50 and older. Other factors below may increase the risk of getting it:

    • Cigarette smoking
    • Viral infection
    • Occupational exposures to dusts containing wood, metal, silica, bacteria, and animal proteins or to aerosol sprays, gases and fumes

    • Medications such as
      nitrofurantoin,
      sulfasalazine,
      amiodarone,
      propranolol,
      methotrexate,
      cyclophosphamide,
      bleomycin
    • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
      (GERD)
    • Other family members with IPF

  • Symptoms

    Over time, the symptoms get worse. This makes daily activities difficult. People with IPF gradually start to have some or all of these symptoms:

    • Shortness of breath, at first only during or after physical activity, but later also when resting
    • Dry cough
    • Gradual weight loss
    • Fatigue
    • Clubbing (enlargement of the fingertips or sometimes the toes)

  • Treatment

    There is no known cure. The goal of treatment is to improve symptoms and slow the disease process. This is done by reducing inflammation and scarring. The tissue that is already scarred cannot be returned to normal.