The Importance of Managing Heart Health With Interstitial Lung Disease

Charlene Marshall avatar

by Charlene Marshall |

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I never understood the relationship between the heart and lungs before I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in 2016. As if learning my lungs would fail from this condition wasn’t hard enough to accept, I was also assigned a cardiologist to monitor my heart health, which is often affected by interstitial lung disease (ILD).

As National Jewish Health notes on its website, the heart and lungs work closely together to ensure the body has enough oxygen-rich blood to function properly. In patients with IPF or other types of ILD, the fibrosis, or scarring, in our lungs decreases their function. This means the heart has to work extra hard to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body, which can result in cardiac complications.

In an ideal world of accessible and navigable healthcare, every ILD patient would be educated about heart health at the beginning of their chronic illness journey. Since my diagnosis, I’ve been learning how to preserve my diminishing lung function, maintain good heart health, and feel as well as possible. Following are several ways those of us with ILD can keep our hearts as healthy as possible.

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Eat healthily

A healthy, balanced diet is important for everyone, as it can help prevent or even reverse heart disease. Some foods can also cause inflammation, which may worsen IPF symptoms.

However, I understand that eating healthy can be difficult for ILD patients. We may experience food aversions due to medication side effects, or lack the energy to prepare a nutritious meal. Personally, I have discovered that certain foods, such as dairy, worsen my cough, so it can be hard for me to eat a heart-healthy diet.

Exercise and stay active

Starting and maintaining an exercise regimen can be overwhelming and exhausting — even for people who are healthy. For those of us living with ILD, exercise can cause a lot of anxiety, especially because it can exacerbate symptoms such as shortness of breath.

Although cardio may feel impossible for those with ILD, exercise is still an important part of cardiovascular health, as it can improve circulation and strengthen your heart. IPF patients may want to consider gentler aerobic exercises or heart-friendly, low-impact exercises. These can still help promote good heart health, while hopefully not triggering IPF symptoms.

Lower stress and control your blood pressure

Living with chronic illness can be stressful, but it’s important to reduce stress whenever possible. When we’re stressed, our bodies respond by releasing cortisol. Over time, high levels of this hormone can increase blood cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, which increases our risk of heart disease.

One way we can reduce stress is by asking for help with certain tasks so we can prioritize resting and caring for our health. If you suffer from high blood pressure, speak with your physician about how to get it under control.

Quit smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke

As an IPF patient, I can no longer tolerate secondhand smoke because it causes excess coughing and a burning sensation in my lungs. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, smoking cigarettes is directly linked to cardiovascular disease. To improve heart health, it’s important to quit smoking as soon as possible and try to avoid secondhand smoke.

If you’re an interstitial lung disease patient, how do you proactively manage your heart health? Please share in the comments below.


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.


Brian Patterson avatar

Brian Patterson

Hi Charlene,

Many thanks for this concise article. i enjoy your columns, which are always insightful!

Fare well,


Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Brian,

Thank you so much for reading my columns and reaching out via the comments. I really appreciate your kind words about what I choose to share/write about; it means a lot. Take good care.

Paul Caden avatar

Paul Caden

you are a very brave fellow Canadian Charlene and you inspire us all keep up the good work

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Thank you so much for your kind words, Paul!


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