Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a rare and chronic lung condition. The word “idiopathic” means there’s no known cause of the condition, which can make diagnosing it difficult.
A hacking cough and breathlessness are two of the most common symptoms, but there are many other possible symptoms.
Discover some of the less common symptoms of IPF. Also, find out about comorbidities and when you should contact a doctor.
Eating becomes more difficult with IPF. This is because it takes more energy to breathe between bites.
People with IPF sometimes lose their appetite and, in turn, lose weight unintentionally.
It’s important for people with IPF to eat a diet filled with nutrient-dense foods. Eating smaller meals throughout the day can also help you maintain your weight.
Clubbing of the fingers and toes happens when your body is receiving less oxygen through the bloodstream.
Your nails may become wider or rounder in later stages of IPF. Your fingertips may also look swollen, look red, and even feel warm.
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One respondent said: “On my worst days, coughing will wipe you out for an entire day… Physically, you’re exhausted.”
Everyday tasks can become much more difficult when breathing is impaired. Frequent coughing can also make you very tired.
For some with IPF, coughing is worse at night. It makes getting restful sleep difficult.
After an IPF diagnosis, you may also have trouble sleeping due to different treatments. Medications such as corticosteroids may disrupt your sleep cycle and lead to other side effects, including weight gain or mood changes.
Coughing can also result in aches and pains in your muscles and joints. You can experience anything from headaches to chest pain and tightness. Some people even report localized pain in their lips and tongue.
IPF may cause edema, or swelling, in your extremities.
As the condition gets worse, the right side of your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your blood vessels to the lungs for oxygen. As a result, the volume of blood that your heart pumps decreases, and the blood can back up into other areas of the body. This includes the liver, gastrointestinal tract, and most often your lower legs.
Comorbidity is the presence of two or more diseases at one time. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one condition that often goes hand in hand with IPF.
With GERD, you experience regurgitation, or a backflow, of the contents of your stomach into your esophagus.
Other comorbidities with IPF may include:
- sleep apnea
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- lung cancer
- ischemic heart disease, which is caused by narrow arteries
Early diagnosis is key with IPF. The sooner you find out you have the condition, the sooner you can try to slow its progression and ease your symptoms. If you notice shortness of breath or a nagging cough, make an appointment with a doctor.
You may be referred to a pulmonologist, or lung specialist, for a more detailed evaluation.
Tests that can help diagnose IPF include:
- chest X-ray
- CT scans
- lung biopsy
- lung function tests
- blood tests
Bring a list of questions to your appointment as well as notes on any personal or family medical history you feel is relevant. Though the cause of IPF is unknown, around 1 in 20 people who have the condition discover that they have a family history, according to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS).
It’s important to communicate with a doctor whenever you’re having symptoms that affect your everyday life. Feeling tired or having aches and pains may not mean anything. In rare cases, they may be hidden signs of a chronic condition such as IPF.
If you’re not sure if what you’re experiencing is serious, consider keeping a diary to log your symptoms. You can eventually take this information to a doctor to help with a diagnosis.