When lung tissue gets damaged or scarred over time, it can become difficult to get enough oxygen from the lungs into your bloodstream. The result is a shortage of oxygen to your brain, extremities, and vital organs in a condition called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). The condition commonly affects adults who are middle-aged or older, and unfortunately there is currently no cure, although there are options for treating the disease that can help you live a longer and more comfortable life.
Other Names for IPF
You may have the same condition that goes by a different name. Some other common terms used to refer to this disease include:
- Idiopathic diffuse interstitial pulmonary fibrosis
- Unusual interstitial pneumonitis
- Cryptogenic fibrosing alveolitis
- Pulmonary fibrosis of unknown cause
- Diffuse fibrosing alveolitis
Causes of IPF
Doctors cannot always pinpoint the cause of IPF, although in many cases it can be traced to a specific exposure or condition. For example, frequent exposure to environmental pollutants such as silica and hard metal dusts, or exposure for some people to certain medications such as nitrofurantoin, heart medications, or chemotherapy. Smoking cigarettes and viral infections such as Epstein-Barr, influenza A, hepatitis C, HIV, and herpes 6 have all been shown to be associated with the disease.
Living With IPF
While there is no cure, there are things that patients can do to cope with this disease. Quitting smoking (if you currently do) and avoiding secondhand smoke are two of the biggest lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the effects of IPF. Doctors also recommend that you remain physically and mentally active, although you will need to moderate your exercise and discuss it with your doctor to make sure the exercise you get is safe. Over time as the disease progresses you might find physical activity more difficult, but be sure to participate in activities that keep your brain active. You should also eat smaller, healthy meals throughout the day to avoid a full stomach that could make breathing more difficult. Eat more fruits, vegetables, and lean protein and avoid excessive salt, sugars, fats, and refined (white) grains.
Finally, talk to your doctor about medications that are available to help you manage this disease. Take these medications as prescribed and discuss any changes in your diet or exercise with your doctor. Pirfenidone is a prescription that can treat IPF, and the FDA approval of two new drugs, Esbriet and Ofev, offers hope to patients who suffer from this disease.
Be sure to talk to your doctor about any other conditions you have prior to taking pirfenidone, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, and discuss all over-the-counter meds, vitamins, and supplements you take. There are risks of side effects, so be sure to take the medication as prescribed and talk to your doctor about any changes in your physical health while taking pirfenidone.