Tips to Proactively Avoid and Manage Inflammation as an IPF Patient
Excessive amounts of inflammation in the body often accompany chronic illness. For people living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a progressive and life-threatening lung disease, effectively managing inflammation is important to overall health and is a popular topic of discussion among IPF patients in our Pulmonary Fibrosis News Forums.
An easy visualization of inflammation is an external injury. For example, when a young child falls from their bike and scrapes their knee, it becomes red, swollen, and hot to the touch. By definition, these symptoms are inflammation, though it is much harder to visualize when it occurs within an internal organ, such as the lungs.
Unfortunately, many IPF patients deal with pulmonary inflammation, or pneumonitis, which causes a wide array of unpleasant symptoms. For some IPF patients, this may be the first sign of an interstitial lung disease. It can be hard to differentiate between the symptoms of pulmonary inflammation and disease progression, but when I begin to feel unwell, my first thought is often that my lung inflammation has flared up.
Since my IPF diagnosis in 2016, I’ve unfortunately had several bouts of pneumonitis, and each time I learn something new about better managing inflammation. Since I am immunocompromised, the risk of developing pneumonitis is a little higher for me than my peers, as inflammation is triggered by our immune system in response to an injury or infection.
Over the years I have fallen ill with various types of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, so my body triggers an inflammatory response, which is normal. The abnormal and unfortunate part of getting pneumonitis for me is that my lungs are so unhealthy that the inflammation doesn’t clear easily and can become a chronic problem. As a result, I’m always striving to better understand how to effectively manage inflammation as an IPF patient.
Following are some of the tips and suggestions I’ve come across in my quest to do better at managing inflammation, and I hope these will help my fellow IPF patients.
Limit alcohol use
Another popular topic of discussion on the PF forums is whether we should consume alcohol, how often, and how we feel as patients afterward. Alcohol can worsen inflammation, particularly in the joints and intestines, so it is always important to be aware of how much you’re consuming.
In addition to worsening inflammation, alcohol can also interact with various medications. If you take either of the anti-fibrotic therapies to help manage IPF, it’s important to speak with your doctor about whether alcohol interacts with Ofev (nintedanib) or Esbriet (pirfenidone).
Reduce sugar intake, salt, and processed foods
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that sugar is in almost everything! Recently, I’ve been paying closer attention to how I feel after consuming refined sugar (it is summertime, after all, and I love ice cream) or processed foods. Almost immediately, my shortness of breath and other pulmonary symptoms are worse for a couple days.
I usually eat home-cooked meals so I can control the ingredients, and my body tolerates this a lot better. While it’s a bit more work, I know how much salt and sugar are in a homemade recipe, and oftentimes I’m able to substitute white sugar for something more natural, such as organic applesauce. Homemade cooking also reduces how often I eat takeout, which always consists of processed food.
While this has been hard to do amid the pandemic, it’s important to reduce stress to help control inflammation levels in our bodies. A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that physiological stress interferes with the body’s ability to control inflammation.
In addition to physical stress, it’s important to reduce emotional stressors as well. These are responsible for excess production of the stress hormone cortisol, which subsequently increases our chances of infection.
Be aware of environmental conditions
As patients living with a fatal lung disease, most of us understand the importance of protecting our lungs from environmental triggers like mold, dust, or secondhand smoke. Inhaling some of these pollutants can increase the amount of inflammation in our bodies as well, particularly among those who are already living with compromised lungs.
While these are just a few causes of inflammation in the body, the entire list would be quite extensive, unfortunately. As IPF patients, do your lungs a favor and spend some time looking into the causes of inflammation that may exist in your environment or result from your lifestyle, then reduce them wherever possible. Inflammation can be a pesky side effect or unknown cause of many different ailments.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.