Long-lasting cough and accompanying shortness of breath may indicate idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The consequences of untreated disease are serious. See how to recognize it and when to see a doctor.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a disease that leads to respiratory failure and even death. Changes associated with pulmonary fibrosis are permanent and irreversible. This happens due to scarring of the lung tissue where the alveoli are located. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is one of over 200 lung diseases with progressive fibrosis of this organ. The first symptoms include cough, which is often not associated with the disease, which delays its diagnosis. Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Week, celebrated every year in September, reminds us not to ignore the symptoms of this disease.
Who does IPF affect?
IPF usually affects older people. It rarely occurs in people under 50 years of age. Moreover, men are more likely to suffer from the disease than women. It is estimated that in about 20 percent cases, the disease is inherited. It is also known that its occurrence may be facilitated by previous smoking for many years, numerous respiratory infections, working in harmful conditions (e.g. exposure to inhalation of metal or wood dust) and coexisting rheumatoid pneumonia.
What cough may be a symptom of pulmonary fibrosis?
You should be concerned about a long-lasting dry cough (longer than a few weeks). It can be quite strong, painful and even give the impression that if we cough we will vomit. This cough is often underestimated by patients because it usually appears after exercise, so it is not associated with illness. People who smoke or have smoked cigarettes for a long time also delay visiting a doctor because of a cough. They believe it occurs due to addiction. However, if the dry cough persists for 3 months, doctors warn that consultation with a specialist is necessary.
Other symptoms of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
Early symptoms of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, in addition to the described cough, include:
shortness of breath,
rapid and shallow breathing,
frequent occurrence of low-grade fever.
The characteristic symptoms of the disease also include the so-called club-shaped fingers that take on a shape compared to drummer drumsticks. Changes are also visible in the shape of nails.
How to diagnose and treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis?
Based on the interview conducted with the patient, the doctor usually orders a chest X-ray and high-resolution computed tomography, which reveals changes in interstitial diseases. In further diagnosis of the disease, it is necessary to perform a number of tests. These include: testing the ability to diffuse gases in the lungs, which is one of the first indications of lung damage. The final diagnosis is determined by histopathological examination of a lung specimen taken during surgery. The disease is chronic and progressive, and not all patients achieve the desired effect with pharmacological treatment. In some cases, a lung transplant is necessary.
Gajewski P., Szczeklik A., Szczeklik’s internal medicineMP, Kraków 2013,