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Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

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Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic disease of the lungs. It causes inflammation and scarring of lung tissue.


Causes    TOP

Idiopathic means the cause is not known.

Something starts uncontrolled inflammation. The inflammation damages tissue and leads to scarring. Over time, the scars surround the thin air sacs in the lungs. They make the sacs thicker and stiffer. Gases like oxygen will have a harder time passing through these sacs. You will have to breathe harder to get enough oxygen. The lungs will worsen until they lose their ability to pass oxygen.

Healthy Air Sacs of Lungs


Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Risk Factors    TOP

IPF occurs most often in males and people aged 50 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of IPF include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Viral infection
  • Frequent exposure to dusts containing wood, metal, silica, bacteria, and animal proteins or to aerosol sprays, gases, and fumes
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Other family members with IPF

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms get worse over time. They will make daily tasks difficult. People with IPF gradually start to have some or all of these symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath during or after physical activity then later also when resting
  • Dry cough
  • Gradual weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Enlargement of the fingertips, called clubbing, or sometimes the toes

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Lung biopsy—a sample of lung tissue is removed and examined in a lab

Images may be taken of your lungs. This can be done with:

Your lung function may be tested. This can be done with:


Treatment    TOP

There is no known cure. The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms. Options include:


Medicine may help to ease some symptoms. A combination of medicine may be used to:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Slow or decrease the immune response
  • Slow the progress of scarring

Pirfenidone and nintedanib may help to slow fibrosis. This may slow worsening of lung function

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Diet and exercise can play important roles. Education support can also help to adjust to changes. A pulmonary rehabilitation program may include:

  • Strength and endurance exercise program
  • Educational information and lectures
  • Nutrition education and planning
  • Emotional and social support

Quit and Avoid smoking    TOP

Smoking damages lung tissue. It will make symptoms worse. Tools may help to quit smoking. Inhaling smoke from others can be harmful as well.

Other Care    TOP

  • Oxygen may be given. This may help to increase oxygen in the body.
  • Vaccines can help to prevent lung infections. Flu shot can be given every year. The pneumonia vaccine can also be helpful.
  • GERD will need to be treated if it is there.
  • Lung transplantation may be needed for severe IPF.

Prevention    TOP

There is no proven way to prevent most IPF. Proper protection when working at a high risk job may help.


American Lung Association

Coalition for Pulmonary Fibrosis


Health Canada

The Lung Association


Explore idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/idiopathic-pulmonary-fibrosis. Accessed January 17, 2019.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. American Thoracic Society. Available at: https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/idiopathic-pulmonary-fibrosis.pdf. Accessed January 17, 2019.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114208/Idiopathic-pulmonary-fibrosis . Updated December 4, 2018. Accessed January 17, 2019.

Pulmonary fibrosis. American Lung Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed January 17, 2019.

Last reviewed May 2018 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 1/47/2019

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