Facts About Pulmonary Fibrosis

Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition in which the lungs are scarred. This makes breathing difficult, and over time as scarring worsens, breathing becomes impossible without the aid of an oxygen tank.

Three causes of the disease have been identified:

  1. Genetic - about 15 percent of individuals with pulmonary fibrosis have a genetic tie to the disease.
  2. Environmental - exposure to heat, smoke, chemicals, and even some medical procedures may damage the lungs, leading to scarring. Cigarette smoking has also been connected to the disease. 
  3. Idiopathic - no identified cause can be determined. A majority of individuals with pulmonary fibrosis fall into this category.

It is estimated that 500,000 individuals currently suffer from pulmonary fibrosis in the United States. However, the number of individuals diagnosed with the disease is expected to increase dramatically. This is as a result of people living longer, and because growing awareness and understanding of the disease is leading to earlier and more accurate diagnoses.

The most common symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis are shortness of breath and a dry cough. The shortness of breath comes on slowly over time but often worsens. These symptoms are frequently overlooked or attributed to other causes by both physicians and patients.

While medical research is ongoing and many treatments have been tried, there is still no effective treatment or cure. Supportive treatments such as pulmonary rehabilitation and the use of oxygen are commonly used.

At present the average life expectancy after diagnosis is only about 3 years.

A lung transplant is the only treatment which has been shown to prolong life expectancy. However, only a quarter of all patients are eligible for a transplant. Even then a donor match may not be found before the patient succumbs to the disease.