MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – September has been designated as Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about this disease, its symptoms, treatment options, and the need for support.

Pulmonary fibrosis is a family of lung diseases characterized by progressive scarring of the lungs which results in smaller lung capacity and difficulty getting oxygen from the air we breathe. The word “pulmonary” means lungs and the word “fibrosis” means scar tissue.

Progression of pulmonary fibrosis can result in crippling loss of function including severe shortness of breath and a need for supplemental oxygen, said Peter Crossno, MD, a pulmonary medicine and critical care physician at Intermountain Health.

According to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, one in 200 adults over 65 years of age are affected by pulmonary fibrosis in the United States. In fact, 200,000 individuals are currently living with the disease, and 50,000 new cases of pulmonary fibrosis are diagnosed each year.

“Although not in all cases of pulmonary fibrosis, in some instances, progressive disease is fatal with some patients passing away within 3-5 years of their diagnosis,” said Dr. Crossno.

Dr. Crossno said awareness and early intervention is key to managing and treating patients who experience pulmonary fibrosis.

“Current management of these diseases focuses on efforts to slow the progression of scarring,” he noted. “Once lung function is lost due to pulmonary fibrosis, it is often irreversible, however, current approved medications can slow progression, so saving lung function early pays off later through the course of the disease.”

Dr. Crossno notes there are a number of non-medication disease-modifying treatments, ranging from pulmonary rehabilitation to prevention of acid reflux and aspiration of liquids and foods that may impact the disease progression.

“Pulmonary fibrosis can have a dramatic impact on peoples’ quality of life and function. Being aware of symptoms like shortness of breath and unexplained cough and having thoughtful discussions with healthcare providers can sometimes detect the disease earlier,” he said. “Current therapies and treatment goals are aimed at maintaining the best lung possible, minimizing the complications of progressive scarring and helping patients live their healthiest lives.”

Symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis can include gradual onset of shortness of breath, especially with activity, often over many months or even years, and a dry, nagging cough, said Dr. Crossno.

“Some patients report decreasing ability to do or perform activities on a daily basis including things like exercise, climbing stairs, or walking on level ground,” he added. “For patients experiencing shortness of breath or a chronic cough that is not explained by other, more common causes, we’d encourage a discussion with and examination by their primary care provider. A thoughtful workup can detect possible pulmonary fibrosis.”

Intermountain is a leader in the treatment of pulmonary fibrosis. Currently, Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, has an Interstitial Lung Disease program that focuses on diseases, such as pulmonary fibrosis. In addition to aiding in the diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis, the clinic offers treatment of interstitial lung diseases and the potential for participation in a number of clinical trials.

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Sponsored by Intermountain Health.