Pulmonary fibrosis – the symptoms to look out for, and when to get treatment

Written by: Dr Amit Patel
Edited by: Jay Staniland

Pulmonary fibrosis is a term that describes a build-up of scar tissue within the lungs. It is also known as interstitial lung disease. There are many different forms of pulmonary fibrosis with a number of causes. Respiratory specialists with an interest in fibrosis will investigate to try to identify the type of fibrosis and what may have led to it.


What are the symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis?


The symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis usually gradually get worse over time, with the following symptoms usually experienced:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent cough
  • Feeling tired
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Clubbed fingers (a change in the shape of nails)

It is important to see a specialist if you are experiencing these symptoms, especially if you’ve had them for a while.


What causes pulmonary fibrosis?


One of the commonest forms of pulmonary fibrosis is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). This condition does not have a known cause but does lead to significant symptoms in patients as often do all types of fibrosis.

Some causes of pulmonary fibrosis are known:


  • Exposure to allergens such as bird feathers for long periods.
  • Patients with rheumatological diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma.
  • Certain drugs can cause pulmonary fibrosis as a side-effect.


How is pulmonary fibrosis treated?


Each form of fibrosis has different treatment options. New agents that are described as being anti-fibrotics have been used in recent years for patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Although they do not cure the condition, they can slow the rate of progression. Patients with other types of fibrosis may benefit from medications to suppress the immune system. Steroid medication is often used with other immunosuppressant drugs added in.

One of the most successful therapeutic interventions is pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a tailored exercise programme aimed at improving fitness, increasing muscle strength and helping the patient cope with feeling breathless.

If you are concerned about breathlessness, or any of the other symptoms mentioned. Make an appointment with a specialist here.

By Dr Amit Patel
Pulmonology & respiratory medicine

Dr Amit Patel is a leading London Consultant Respiratory physician specialising in the investigation and management of all respiratory diseases including acute and chronic cough, asthma, breathlessness of unknown cause, COPD, lung cancer, respiratory failure, sleep apnoea, sarcoidosis, interstitial lung disease and bronchiectasis, and is the clinical lead for respiratory medicine at King's College Hospital, London.

He has a number of private clinics in London, alongside his NHS work at King's College Hospital and Guys and St Thomas's Hospital. During Dr Patel's higher specialist training he obtained an MD in the Division of Asthma, Allergy, and Lung Biology within King’s College London.

Dr Amit Patel holds a postgraduate teaching qualification and is actively involved in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and teaches all aspects of respiratory medicine. He has been involved in a number of research projects and his work has been published in a number of high impact factor international journals, and presented at major symposia in North America, Europe and the UK.

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