Interstitial Lung Disease

What is Interstitial Lung Disease?

The term “interstitial lung disease” (ILD) actually refers to over 200 different diseases that affect the lung tissue in different ways. Some patients with ILD develop scarring or fibrosis of the lung tissue which affects breathing and oxygenation. This is a chronic, irreversible disease state that requires close monitoring by a specialty trained physician.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is one of the more common forms of ILD. In spite of extensive research, the cause is still unknown and there are currently no approved medications to treat IPF. At  Piedmont Physicians Georgia Lung, we are able to offer our patients the opportunity to participate in national clinical trials for new medicines that may benefit patients with IPF through Piedmont Healthcare’s research programs.

What are the signs and symptoms?

  • Shortness of breath worsened with activity
  • Dry cough

What are the risk factors and causes?

It is important to try to determine the cause of ILD, if possible. Sometimes ILD is caused by elements that our bodies are exposed to, including cigarette smoke, certain medications, radiation, or dusts and allergens found at work or in our homes. In some cases, an exposure that happened many years ago could be the cause of ILD now. Connective tissue diseases, such as scleroderma or systemic sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus, can be associated with ILD. Some forms of ILD have recognizable patterns but unknown causes, such as IPF and sarcoidosis.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will want to take a thorough medical history to help evaluate for the many possible causes of ILD. Some questions that you may be asked may even seem like they are unrelated to your lung problems but could provide important clues. Your doctor will probably order some specialized tests to measure your lung function and oxygen levels and look at blood work in the search for the underlying cause. Almost all patients will get a CT scan of the chest during the diagnostic work-up. Some patients require a lung biopsy, either by bronchoscopy or by a thoracic surgeon. Putting all these pieces of information together will help your doctor to make a correct diagnosis.

What is the Treatment?

The treatment plan is determined by looking at each individual patient. If the cause of the ILD is determined to be something that you are being exposed to in your environment or a medication, then the primary treatment is to avoid the trigger. Some forms of ILD, such as those caused by connective tissue diseases, are treated with medications that suppress the immune system. In the case of IPF, there are no effective medications available, so your doctor may recommend evaluation for clinical research trials of medications that may help and / or evaluation for a lung transplantation. Some patients with ILD will require supplemental oxygen. Most benefit from a regular exercise routine. At Piedmont Physicians Georgia Lung, our Pulmonary Rehabilitation Department provides closely monitored exercise classes for patients with ILD as well as other lung conditions.

What are the benefits of Diagnosis and Treatment?

Early diagnosis and treatment of ILD can improve a patient’s quality of life. Piedmont Physicians Georgia Lung is fortunate to be able to work side by side with Piedmont Healthcare’s research team to provide the best options for treatment for our patients.