Read about pulmonary rehabilitation, a treatment program for IPF.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic lung disease. The main feature is scarring in the walls of the alveoli (air sacs) and other tissues in the lungs. This scar tissue becomes thick, and makes breathing difficult. IPF is a progressive disease, meaning that it worsens over time. Because there’s currently no cure for IPF, treatment options focus on living better.

Keep reading to learn more about one of these options, pulmonary rehabilitation.

Treatment Options

There’s no one treatment for IPF. The scar tissue in the lungs cannot be removed and the process cannot be halted. Treatment generally focuses on slowing the progression of the disease, managing symptoms, and improving patients’ everyday lives.

Medical Treatments

Your doctor may recommend a number of drugs to ease your symptoms, including:

  • corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • immune suppressants to combat an overactive immune system
  • proton pump inhibitors to reduce excess stomach acid
  • anti-fibrotic medications to slow the process of fibrosis
  • over-the-counter medications like acid reducers and cough suppressants

You may also benefit from a portable oxygen tank, especially during exercise. Your doctor may even suggest a lung transplant if other treatment options don’t work for you.

Other Treatments

Many nonmedical treatment options are also available. Certain lifestyle changes can also help you breathe better and manage your other symptoms. Talk to your doctor about:

  • losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight
  • quitting smoking
  • getting annual flu and pneumonia vaccinations
  • taking vitamin and mineral supplements
  • keeping track of your oxygen levels
  • participating in pulmonary rehabilitation

About Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation, or PR, isn’t just a single treatment. It’s a broad treatment program aimed at helping people with chronic lung conditions to improve their lung function, reduce their symptoms, and enjoy a better quality of life.

What’s Involved?

PR is made up of several components:

  • exercise and conditioning training
  • patient education
  • learning techniques to conserve energy
  • nutrition counseling
  • mental and emotional support
  • breathing training

Where Does PR Take Place?

Pulmonary rehabilitation usually takes place in an outpatient clinic or a hospital on an outpatient basis, with other patients. This group setting can help you build a support network with other people who have IPF, while at the same time strengthening and improving your lung function.

Who Will Be Treating Me?

You will have a team of experts working together to help you. This team will likely consist of:

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • physical and/or occupational therapists
  • respiratory therapists
  • psychologists and/or mental health counselors
  • dietitians and/or nutritionists
  • medical educators

What Can I Expect?

Your doctor will likely recommend that you attend pulmonary rehabilitation two or three times a week, for several weeks. You will need to be willing to make this long-term commitment to your health. At the very beginning, your treatment team will work together to create a rehab program tailored to your specific needs. It may seem difficult at first, but pulmonary rehabilitation is worth the work.

What If I Can’t Handle It?

Don’t worry: Even if you can only walk a few steps at a time, your rehab team can help you. They’re used to working with people with IPF, and they expect you to be out of breath quickly. You can also use an oxygen tank to help you breathe more easily while exercising.


Read Video Transcript »

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis is a progressive stiffening of the lungs. Now the lung is meant to expand and contract, like a balloon. And it takes in oxygen to help diffuse into the blood stream to get to our tissues. And it's made up of a tissue call fibrous cells and they give the lung its structure. However, with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, there's an over production of these fibrous cells and the lung becomes stiff and can't expand and take in as much oxygen as it normally does.


So the exact causes of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis are unknown. However we do have a fairly good idea of what some possible causes could be and they come from chronic trauma to the lungs that causes damage. Some fo these things could be smoking, which causes chronic irritation to the lungs. Another thing could be dust from a worksite. Or even the effects of heartburn which causes acid to come up from the esophagus and go back into the lungs.


The usual symptoms of IPF would be anything that affects the lungs as you can imagine. If you can't breathe very well, you'll be short of breath. Now in the beginning of the disease, you may be able to walk several blocks without any problem. But as it progresses, it's hard to walk one block without having to sit down because you're so short of breath. Another very common symptom is a chronic cough. It may or may not be productive.


The treatment for IPF used to not be very good. We tried anti-inflammatory medications and steroids, but they never really worked. Because, as we know now, the disease is not about inflammation but more about the proliferation of these fibrous cells. However, there are 2-new medications that actually target the fibrous cells and these two medications are Esbriet and Ofev. What they do is that they block the proliferation of these fibrous cells so it really slows the progression of the disease.


An exacerbation is something that causes a worsening of the symptoms. And an exacerbation would come from something like an infection. The infections in someone with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis can be very dangerous and so we treat them right away with antibiotics and steroids to stop the inflammation from the infection, not from the disease itself. Other things would be supplemental oxygen so you see people wearing oxygen tanks. This can help as well.

Living with IPF

Lifestyle changes that people should consider if they do have Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis would be: one, stopping smoking, two, treating their heartburn, and three, doing something called pulmonary rehab which are exercises designed to improve your lung function. Although in the past, we never had good treatment for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, now with these new medications we can really preserve the quality of life. So make sure to take those medications regularly, do your pulmonary rehab, and always consult regularly with your physician.

Pulmonary rehab has become a mainstay of IPF treatment. It’s not used alone, though. You can expect your doctor to recommend it as part of a wide treatment plan that also includes both medical and other nonmedical interventions.