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Interstitial lung disease: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About interstitial lung disease

Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD), also known as ‘diffuse parenchymal lung disease’, refers to a group of lung disorders affecting the interstitial lung tissue (the tissues and spaces around the air sacs of the lungs). It is a gradually progressive disease with inflammation and scarring of lung tissue which affects an individual’s ability to breathe and get sufficient oxygen into the bloodstream.

Interstitial lung disease: Incidence, age & sex

It has been estimated that some 40,000 people die from interstitial lung disease worldwide. It usually affects people in the age group 20-40 years. Pre-menopausal women are more susceptible to this lung disorder.

Signs and symptoms of interstitial lung disease: Diagnosis

The predominant symptoms include shortness of breath and dry cough which generally have a slow onset. Signs of chronically reduced oxygen levels in the blood include clubbing (a painless enlargement of the fingertips) and an enlarged heart.

The condition can be detected by imaging modalities like chest X-ray and CT scan of the lungs. Other non-invasive tests include measurement of the oxygen levels in arterial blood and pulmonary function tests which exhibits the functional capacity of the lungs. Sometimes invasive tests like bronchoscopy may be considered in some individuals. This test requires a flexible tube which when inserted into the body, helps in viewing and examining the airways.

Cause and prevention of interstitial lung disease

Interstitial lung disease is known to be caused by a misdirected immune response. Predisposing factors are prior infection of the lungs, radiation therapy to the chest, exposure to environmental toxins like silica dust and asbestos, ingestion of drugs used in chemotherapy. Moreover this lung disorder may also be associated with autoimmune disorders like lupus, scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes, the process of inflammation and scarring of the interstitial lung tissue develops in the absence of an unknown cause. Such a condition is called ‘idiopathic interstitial lung disease.

Smoking cessation, weight control, proper nutrition, regular exercise, dealing with difficult psychological aspects of living with lung disease may help in improving overall quality of life.

Interstitial lung disease (ILD): Complications

Interstitial lung disease can lead to several long-term health concerns like pulmonary hypertension which involves high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. This is a serious condition which may not only damage lungs but also adversely affect the heart. Other complications include heart failure and respiratory failure which are potentially fatal complications.

Interstitial lung disease (ILD): Treatment

The management of interstitial lung disease includes medications like corticosteroids which are usually prescribed to reduce lung inflammation. Other medications like immuno-suppressant drugs (Azathioprine or Cyclophosphamide) may also be considered in individuals who do not respond well with solitary steroid therapy. These immuno-suppressant drugs can either be given in combination with steroids or after completion of steroid treatment. Oxygen therapy or respiratory therapy (pulmonary rehabilitation) may also be considered to improve daily functioning of lungs. Smoking cessation is essential. Surgical intervention which includes ‘lung transplantation’ is the last option in rare cases when the affected individuals exhibit extremely poor functioning of lungs and are resistant to above stated conservative treatment modalities.