Pulmonary Fibrosis: What It Is and How It Relates to Rheumatoid Arthritis
Lung Tissue Damage
Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease that leads to scarring and damage on your lung tissue. As a result of this damage, breathing can become more and more difficult over time.
Many different health conditions can cause pulmonary fibrosis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Click through the slideshow to learn more about pulmonary fibrosis and how it relates to RA.
Recognizing Pulmonary Fibrosis
When you have pulmonary fibrosis, you might experience several different symptoms. The most notable symptom is shortness of breath.
However, coughing, feeling tired, and pain in your joints and muscles are also possible signs of the condition. You might also lose weight without knowing why.
Some people may have more severe symptoms than others.
Link to RA
Rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation and chronic pain, often affecting your joints. RA can also affect other systems in the body, including your lungs.
Several lung conditions have been linked to rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, breathing problems are the second-leading cause of death in people who have RA. One of these lung conditions is pulmonary fibrosis.
RA and Pulmonary Fibrosis
Rheumatoid arthritis patients have a greater chance of developing pulmonary fibrosis, according to the Mayo Clinic.
When this happens, those with RA may experience lung-tissue scarring and have a hard time breathing.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), up to 40 percent of people who have RA also have pulmonary fibrosis. But experts still don’t understand exactly what causes RA patients to get pulmonary fibrosis.
Something to Take Seriously
Pulmonary fibrosis in RA patients develops from a condition called “interstitial lung disease.”
Although common in RA, interstitial lung disease is the most serious type of lung condition that RA patients get. It can be life-threatening.
Treatment for rheumatoid articular disease has gotten much better overall. But it has not improved in relation to lung disease that is connected with RA, according to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.
Testing for Pulmonary Fibrosis
Your doctor may use several tests to tell whether you have pulmonary fibrosis. Your doctor might begin with an imaging test, such as a chest X-ray or echocardiogram.
You may also need a test of your lung function. A spirometry test shows your doctor the amount of air you can hold in your lungs. An exercise test is another way for your doctor to check your lung function.
Confirming Pulmonary Fibrosis
Chest X-rays and other tests may not provide all of the information your doctor needs to confirm a pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis. A biopsy may be the only way to know for sure whether you do have lung scarring and damage.
A biopsy is a tissue sample taken from your lungs. This may be done through a surgical biopsy, which involves inserting a small camera through incisions made in your ribs.
The past 40 years have seen experts increasingly recognize how often lung problems like pulmonary fibrosis are involved in RA, according to one report.
Researchers have not been able to prove a link between how serious pulmonary fibrosis is and the length of time that someone has had RA. But pulmonary fibrosis occurs in nearly half of all patients with RA, and can lead to death in RA patients.
If you have RA and think you may have pulmonary fibrosis, talk to your doctor.
- Lung Disease Associated With Rheumatoid Arthritis. (n.d.). ClinicalTrials.gov. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from http://clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT00001876
- Lung Involvement in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. (n.d.). Arthritis Information. Retrieved December 1, 2013, from http://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/arthritis-info/rheumatoid-arthritis/lung-involvement-in-ra/
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