Although idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) progresses slowly, it’s possible to experience acute flare-ups. These flare-ups can severely limit your normal activities and lead to complications of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Part of the issue is that, for many people, IPF is diagnosed in its later stages. Still, this doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically experience symptoms in a rapid progression.
Jot down the following questions to take to your next doctor’s appointment. Being honest and open with your doctor can help you learn how to slow IPF progression and maintain your quality of life.
1. Is it too late to quit smoking?
It’s never too late to quit smoking. If you’re having a hard time quitting, talk to your doctor about possible strategies to help. Your doctor will likely suggest cessation products or prescription medications.
You’ll also need to talk to loved ones who smoke. Secondhand smoke is dangerous, especially if you have a lung disease like IPF.
2. What other environmental triggers can I avoid?
Environmental pollutants are one of the potential causes of pulmonary fibrosis. They can also trigger symptoms. If you’ve already been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, you can’t reverse the lung scarring caused by environmental pollutants. But your doctor may suggest avoiding these triggers as part of a symptom management strategy.
Examples of triggers include:
- cigarette smoke
- coal dust
- animal droppings
- dust from hard metals
- silica dust
If you’re exposed to these triggers on a regular basis, talk to your doctor about ways to avoid them or minimize their negative effects.
3. Can medications help?
While there’s no single medication used in IPF treatment, there are several options your doctor might consider in the case of a sudden onset of severe symptoms. This is also called an acute IPF exacerbation. Quick treatment can help ease symptoms.
Ask your doctor about the following medications and treatment measures:
- oxygen therapy
- pulmonary rehabilitation
- vitamins (for deficiencies related to unintentional weight loss)
4. Is exercise off limits?
Shortness of breath caused by IPF can interfere with your daily activities. Over time, this can make exercise seem less and less appealing, especially if you’re already having problems breathing during periods of rest. Still, exercise is important in holding off IPF progression.
You may not be able to exercise like you used to, but moving around even a little bit and engaging in your favorite hobbies can keep you active and improve your overall lung function. You’ll help your heart stay healthy by upping your oxygen intake too. Plus, exercise can reduce stress levels, which can lower any anxiety related to your IPF.
If you’re thinking about starting any new exercises, check with your doctor first to make sure they’re safe for you.
5. Do I need to bother watching my weight?
Unintentional weight loss is common for many people with IPF. Part of this gradual drop in pounds has to do with a reduced appetite. If you’re still within a healthy weight range, you don’t necessarily have to fret too much about your current scale numbers. What you should focus on, however, is your daily nutrition. The food choices you make impact how you feel in the short term. In the long term, good nutrition can even slow down the progression of chronic illnesses.
If you’re finding it hard to eat regular meals right now, focus on eating smaller bites throughout the day instead. Ask your doctor if you’re deficient in any nutrients, and whether they might recommend a dietitian for extra help.
6. Will I need a lung transplant?
Lung transplant should be considered in all people with IPF. This type of surgery carries a high risk of infection and your body may reject it, but it’s the only cure for IPF. You and your doctor can weigh the benefits versus risks of a lung transplant.
7. What complications will I need to be aware of?
Unlike other lung diseases, such as asthma, IPF can affect other body systems. This is because the severe scarring of IPF limits the amount of oxygen your lungs take in and distribute. Over time, this can lead to complications such as:
- heart failure
- infections of your lungs
- lung cancer
- pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure that occurs in your lungs)
- reduced mobility from aching muscles and joints
- respiratory failure
- weight loss
Tackling IPF now can help slow down the progression of the disease, as well as these complications.
Is progression inevitable?
The short answer is yes, but your doctor will be able to help you figure out your individual rate of IPF progression. Progression typically occurs over years, but acute flares can also happen and can accelerate progression.