September is Pulmonary Fibrosis Month

(September 25, 2012)

Pulmonary fibrosis is a deadly lung disease affecting more than 128,000 Americans. Currently, there is no FDA approved treatment and no cure available. It is often fatal with most succumbing to the disease three to five years after diagnosis.

Pulmonary fibrosis is one of a family of related diseases, called interstitial lung diseases, characterized by scarring of the tissue inside and between the air sacs in the lungs. When the scar forms, the tissue becomes stiff and thicker, making it harder for oxygen to pass through the walls of the air sac into the bloodstream. Once the lung tissue becomes scarred, the damage cannot be reversed.

Pulmonary fibrosis can develop slowly or quickly. In some people, the disease stays the same for years but in most people, breathing symptoms become worse over time. A person with pulmonary fibrosis eventually may be short of breath even at rest. Pulmonary fibrosis can also lead to other medical problems, including collapsed lung, lung infections, blood clots in the lungs and lung cancer. As the disease gets worse, it can lead to respiratory failure, pulmonary hypertension and heart failure. A person with pulmonary fibrosis may need supplemental oxygen to help with breathing.

In some cases, the cause of pulmonary fibrosis can be found. Pulmonary fibrosis can be caused by cigarette smoking, viral infections, pollutants, acid reflux, common rheumatologic diseases, occupational diseases, drug reactions and genetics. However, most cases of pulmonary fibrosis have no known cause. These cases are called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

The American Lung Association has supported people with pulmonary fibrosis through research and education. As part of our Awards and Grants Research Program, our researchers have examined the mechanisms in which pulmonary fibrosis develops, causes of the scarring, as well as, potential treatment options.

In addition to research, the American Lung Association provides in-depth information on the disease, its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, as well as, information and education on living with the disease on our website.

Lastly, throughout the country, local Lung Associations host Better Breathers Clubs, which offer patients and their caregivers the opportunity to learn ways to better cope with their disease while getting the support of others who share in the same struggles.

“Our message about pulmonary fibrosis is one of hope,” says Norman H. Edelman, MD, the American Lung Association’s Chief Medical Officer. “The key is to continue funding research that will eventually find a cure as well as provide support to patients managing the disease. It is just as critical to increase public awareness of this deadly disease, especially during Pulmonary Fibrosis month.”