Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a type of pulmonary fibrosis that has unknown causes. Although it’s overall progression is slow, it can result in sudden worsening of symptoms when exacerbated.
Given these two facts, you might be wondering whether treatment is possible if your doctor doesn’t know what caused your IPF to begin with. You may also wonder if treatment is even worth it.
Keep the following treatment questions in mind to discuss at your next appointment with your doctor.
1. How do I know if my IPF is worsening?
The most common sign of IPF is shortness of breath, also called dyspnea. Shortness of breath may seemingly come out of nowhere and is often mistaken for another lung condition. You may experience it during periods of activity, and over time, during periods of rest. A dry cough may accompany shortness of breath.
Your IPF may also cause other symptoms, such as weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue. You may even notice that your fingers and toes start to round at the tips, a symptom known as clubbing.
The symptoms of IPF vary from person to person. If you notice breathing difficulties that continue to get worse, along with the onset of additional symptoms, this could be a sign that your condition is worsening. Discuss your treatment options with your doctor.
2. What medications cure IPF?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any medications available to cure IPF. Instead, medications are used to slow the progression of IPF symptoms. In turn, you may also experience better quality of life.
There are two drugs that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of IPF: nintedanib (Ofev) and pirfenidone (Esbriet). Known as antifibrotic agents, these medications decrease the rate of scarring in your lungs. This may help slow down the progression of IPF and improve your symptoms too.
Additionally, your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medications:
- acid reflux medications, especially if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- antibiotics to prevent infections
- anti-inflammatory drugs, such as prednisone
- cough suppressants, such as benzonatate, hydrocodone, and thalidomide
3. Can oxygen therapy help me breathe better?
Oxygen therapy is a viable option for most people with IPF. It can help you breathe better while you walk, shop, or engage in any other activities. As IPF progresses, you may need oxygen therapy during sleep to help you breathe better.
Oxygen therapy can’t stop the progression of IPF, but it can:
- make it easier to exercise
- help you fall asleep and stay asleep
- regulate your blood pressure
4. Are there any rehabilitation programs available?
Yes. For IPF, you may be referred to a pulmonary rehabilitation program. You can think of this as occupational therapy or physical therapy, except the focus is on your lungs.
With pulmonary rehabilitation, your therapist will help you with:
- breathing techniques
- emotional support
- exercise and endurance
5. Will I need a lung transplant?
If you have large amounts of lung scarring, you may benefit from a lung transplant. If successful, the surgery can also help you live longer. According to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, pulmonary fibrosis accounts for about half of all lung transplants in the United States.
Still, there’s a great deal of risk associated with a lung transplant, so it’s not for everyone. The biggest concern is rejection of the new lung. Infections are also possible.
Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in finding out more about lung transplants and if one is right for you.
6. Are there any alternative treatments available?
Alternative treatments haven’t been widely supported for IPF management. Still, home remedies and lifestyle changes can help your overall condition.
Talk to your doctor about:
- nutritional support
- smoking cessation
- taking vitamins, if needed
Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter (OTC) remedies and medications to treat your symptoms. Examples include cough drops, cough suppressants, and pain relievers. Always check with your doctor first before taking any OTC medications to prevent side effects and potential drug interactions.
7. What are the pros and cons of treating IPF?
Since there’s no cure for IPF, your doctor will likely focus on management and treatment to prolong your life. This will also help improve your quality of life and prevent complications, such as infections.
While IPF can be overwhelming, it’s important not to give up. Treating IPF can make your everyday activities more enjoyable. Your doctor may even recommend that you participate in clinical trials, which can expose you to new treatments.
The cons to IPF treatment are possible medication side effects and potential rejection from a lung transplant.
When considering the pros and cons of treatment, you may see that the benefits far outweigh the risks. You and your doctor can decide what is best for your own situation.