Tips to Proactively Avoid and Manage Inflammation as an IPF Patient

Charlene Marshall avatar

by Charlene Marshall |

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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).

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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.

Reduce stress

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.

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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.

Comments

Maria avatar

Maria

Hi Charlene, Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your blog. I was diagnosed in 2016 although I was not aware I had the start in 2012. (I was not told) I have been on Ofev since 2017
So far it seems ok although challenging at times. You are an inspiration for sure so please keep it going. Thank you.

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Yvonne avatar

Yvonne

I LOVE your blog. I am so glad I stumbled upon it today. Is there a way to subscribe your blog?

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Christie avatar

Christie

Hi Yvonne, Charlene is on vacation, so I'm stepping in to let you know that you can add your email to our mailing list to receive updates and notifications about new posts. At the bottom of this page, you will find a banner that says "subscribe to our newsletter!" Hope that helps. Thanks for reading!
Christie (Courage to Care)

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Baron James L Thompson avatar

Baron James L Thompson

Firstly I'd like to thank Charlene too, very helpful.
The introductory para above describes Pulmonary Fibrosis as a life 'threatening' disease.
I've had it for about 5years and finally diagnosed about 2.5 years ago when I joined a study group.based at a leading hospital near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia and seem to have become stabilised as result of treatment. However I have never come across anyone who described themselves as "cured" .
Can anyone subscribing to this very helpful newsletter quote an actual examples of a patient being 'cured' of Pulmonary Fibrosis?

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DOCTOR DON avatar

DOCTOR DON

Charlene:
I just wanted to thank you for the Pulmonary Fibrosis blog. It helps so many of us. I too have the intense fatigue at times which was my first symptoms before i knew I had a pulmonary disease (IPF)! On OFEV. Looking at a few trials. Great suggestions regarding avoiding stress—so true. Are Swedish fish ok🙏🤪🤪🤪???

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Christine McCann avatar

Christine McCann

I am without my Esbriet medication for almost 3 weeks now because I can't get a refill from anyone due to the influx of appointments for ALL pulmonary Doctors within a 200 mile radius of here. I had transportation problems getting to the Doctor I had so he won't renew without seeing me and he and every Dr. I have checked out are booked solid until Nov and beyond, I keep being told "your primary care doc or the ER can do it" but he won't because he is not a pulmonary Dr. and thinks he will get in trouble. And the ER only does short term assistance on some prescriptions. I have begged and pleaded but everyone just says ":we can't renew without a prescription" and I can't get a prescription without an appointment .After taking this med for 3 years now, how long can I be off this med before I die? So far I don't feel bad, I do notice some additional shortness of breath, I was doing so well before this.. I don't understand how I can be treated this way. Believe me I have tried and talked to everyone.

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Rosalie Thompson avatar

Rosalie Thompson

I was diagnosed March of 2020 had Covid and felt my IPF came from it. Always want to listen to others and learn. Could not take the 2 meds they offered, I am 79 female. Thanks

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Mary Geissler avatar

Mary Geissler

Good Afternoon: recently diagnosed with IPF, at 73. My mother passed away in 1984 of same disease, so I know first-hand the effects. However, there have to be some advancements in treatment not open to her. Has anyone considered participating in any clinical trials? There are several near (well, 75 miles) of where I live and I am seriously considering being part. Of course, I cannot control what group I get in - could be placebo. However, I am in otherwise very good health and have participated in a Pulmonary Rehab program that taught me the value of good exercise - which has restored so much of my lost stamina! I am getting good care, but reading about these promising new drugs for IPF makes me want to do everything possible to maintain the health I do have. Mary

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Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Mary,

Thanks so much for reading my column and reaching out via the comments. Sorry to hear you've been recently diagnosed with this cruel disease and that you have personal experience with IPF. There are indeed lots of clinical trials for patients and I hope they are promising for all of us. I always encourage patients to speak with their physicians about clinical trials, but I am also in support of them and try to participate when I can. Kudos to you for doing a rehab program -- keep up the great work, that will help you no doubt!
Char.

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