If you’re newly diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, finding an experienced health care partner is critical. Even though there isn’t a cure for this condition, certain treatments may slow the disease and help you breathe easier.
You’ll find these treatments—and more—from pulmonologists at University of Iowa Health Care.
As the only medical center in Iowa named a PFF Care Center by the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, we’re uniquely qualified to manage pulmonary fibrosis.
- Access to breakthrough medications that slow the rate of scarring in the lungs
- Opportunities to take part in clinical trials and other types of research
- Advanced treatments you won’t find anywhere else in Iowa, such as lung transplant
Our goal is to improve your symptoms and quality of life as your disease progresses
What is pulmonary fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is a type of interstitial lung disease. It’s one of many conditions that causes irreversible scarring in your lungs.
It’s also a progressive disease (it gets worse over time). As scarring continues, your lung tissue becomes thick and stiff. This makes it harder for your lungs to expand—making it harder for you to breathe.
Pulmonary fibrosis causes
Although there isn’t a single, clear reason why people develop pulmonary fibrosis, certain factors increase your risk. These include:
- Regular exposure to chemicals or other substances in the workplace
- Having radiation treatments for cancer in your chest
- Having other medical conditions that can harm the lungs, such as sarcoidosis or rheumatoid arthritis
In many cases, the cause of pulmonary fibrosis is unknown. Providers refer to this as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Pulmonary fibrosis symptoms
In the early stages of pulmonary fibrosis, symptoms can be mistaken for other, less serious lung diseases. These symptoms include:
- A persistent dry cough
- Shortness of breath during physical activity
- Chest pain that comes and goes
As your disease progresses, you may also experience:
- Shortness of breath during simple activities (or even at rest). You may feel like you can no longer catch your breath or take a deep breath.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Clubbing (the tops of your fingers or toes become noticeably wider or rounder).
- Cyanosis (skin discoloration due to low blood oxygen levels). If you’re fair-skinned, the skin around your mouth or eyes may appear blue. If you’re dark-skinned, the discoloration will appear more gray or white.
- Unexplained weight loss.
Pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis
Our pulmonologists are skilled at distinguishing pulmonary fibrosis from other conditions that cause similar symptoms.
A thorough evaluation
During your first visit, we’ll start with a physical examination. We’ll listen for abnormal lung sounds (called crackles) and look for visible symptoms like cyanosis and finger- or toe-clubbing.
We’ll also review your medical history. For example, we’ll ask you about potential risk factors like asbestos exposure or a history of smoking.
Following your initial evaluation, you’ll need to have one or more of the following tests:
- Imaging tests: We use advanced imaging procedures, such as high-resolution chest CT scans, to look for evidence of lung scarring.
- Pulmonary function tests: We have you breathe into special devices to measure how well your lungs work.
- Oxygen desaturation study: We have you walk at your own pace for six minutes while you wear an oxygen sensor on your finger or forehead. This test measures the amount of oxygen in your blood.
- Lung biopsy: We take small tissue samples from your lungs for examination under a microscope.
Pulmonary fibrosis treatment from UI Health Care
We can’t reverse the lung scarring caused by pulmonary fibrosis. However, the earlier we diagnose you, the sooner we can start treating you. This may delay the onset of severe symptoms.
In the meantime, we’ll provide treatments that help you breathe (and feel) better.
Pulmonary fibrosis treatment options
The treatments you’ll need will depend on the type and severity of your symptoms. We offer:
- Medication: Esbriet (pirfenidone) and OFEV (nintedanib) are known as anti-fibrotic drugs. They help slow the scarring in your lungs so your lungs will work better for a longer period of time.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation: Specially trained therapists teach you exercises to strengthen your lungs and improve your breathing.
- Oxygen therapy: If you routinely have low blood oxygen levels, we can prescribe supplemental oxygen therapy. You’ll have small tanks of oxygen delivered to your home. You can breathe in this oxygen as needed, through a tube that sits just inside your nostrils. Oxygen therapy helps you breathe better and can give you more energy.
- Lung transplant: If you have advanced pulmonary fibrosis and are healthy enough for major surgery, you may qualify for a lung transplant. One of our transplant surgeons would replace your diseased lung(s) with a healthy donor lung.
Our team will also teach you about—and help you make—lifestyle changes that can benefit your lung health. For example, if you need help quitting smoking, we can refer you to smoking cessation classes.