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.

There’s no single 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.

Keep reading to learn more about one of these options: 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 with other patients in an outpatient clinic or a hospital on an outpatient basis. 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’ll have a team of experts working together to help you. This team will likely consist of:

What can I expect?

Your doctor will likely recommend that you attend pulmonary rehabilitation two or three times a week, for several weeks. You’ll 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.

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.

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

  • anti-fibrotic medications to slow the process of fibrosis, such as nintedanib
  • corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • immune suppressants to combat an overactive immune system, such as pirfenidone
  • proton pump inhibitors to reduce excess stomach acid
  • over-the-counter (OTC) 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.

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