Pulmonary fibrosis (PF), a type of interstitial lung disease, is characterized by scarring of the lungs that prevents oxygen from entering the blood. Shortness of breath, a dry and chronic cough, fatigue and weight loss are among the most common symptoms of the disease.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is the name given this disease when its origin or causes are not known.
There is currently no cure for PF, but several treatments are available that aim to manage or treat its symptoms.
Symptom Management in Pulmonary Fibrosis
Breathlessness, or shortness of breath, is a common symptom of PF and can be very frightening. When the muscles do not receive enough oxygen to perform their normal tasks, a distress signal is sent to the brain. This triggers an increase in the respiratory rate that results in shortness of breath. Breathlessness can be treated with oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and, in more severe cases, morphine therapy.
Cough is a distressing and debilitating symptom, as it can become chronic and is typically progressive. The characteristic cough experienced by PF patients, with or without mucus, may be caused by scar tissue in the lungs or by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Therapies for managing this cough are usually similar to those used for acute coughs related to other conditions.
Palliative care focuses not only on the patients, but also on patients’ caregivers and family. Palliative care is not end-of-life care but is intended for people with serious illnesses, and aims to improve quality of life for everyone involved. For pulmonary fibrosis, palliative care includes assistance with medications to treat disease symptoms, as well as help in addressing mental health, such as stress or depression. This care is usually given by a team of specialists that likely includes physicians, nurses and social workers, and acts to further support PF patients in managing their disease.
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