Pulmonary fibrosis is a life-threatening disease that causes scar tissue to build up inside the lungs. This can make it difficult to breathe and can contribute to a variety of other upper respiratory-related issues. Once the scar tissue has started to develop, there is little that can be done to reverse it. Each patient diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis has their own experience – for some, the disease progresses rapidly, while others may remain stable for several years, and many others have an experience that is somewhere in between. There is no known cure and no treatment shown to be effective at reversing the scarring found in pulmonary fibrosis patients, but some treatments can slow the progression of the disease and may improve symptoms. Anyone diagnosed with this illness should discuss treatment options with a medical professional.
Pulmonary fibrosis is irreversible. Once scarring and other types of damage have occurred within the lungs, there is nothing that can be done to cure it. While each person’s experience with the disease is unique, the life expectancy for pulmonary fibrosis is less than five years with most patients -- about two to three years on average. Although the damage to the lungs cannot be undone, there are many things someone with pulmonary fibrosis can do to increase their odds of living longer.
Personal and Lifestyle Factors
Several factors affect a person's prognosis when diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. In general, factors such as old age, a history of smoking, lower body mass index and the development of related complications including emphysema or pulmonary hypertension, are associated with a shorter life expectancy in pulmonary fibrosis sufferers.
While the scarring to the lungs cannot be reversed, some medications can slow the growth of additional scar tissue. Drugs called Pirfenidone and nintedanib have both been proven to slow the progression of pulmonary fibrosis. Meanwhile, these drugs have shown to be ineffective for some patients and can prompt significant side effects.
In some cases, a lung transplant can be a last resort treatment option for pulmonary fibrosis sufferers and may prolong life expectancy. This option is usually considered for younger patients with severe symptoms who are no longer responding to other types of treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If a pulmonary fibrosis sufferer is also a smoker, quitting smoking is a crucial step toward prolonging their life.
When a person begins having problems breathing, they will often reduce their level of activity. However, once someone has been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, increasing activity levels will help improve quality of life and may even extend the person’s life. Exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous to be effective. Going for walks or swimming a few laps at the pool is a good start. Eating balanced, healthy meals and staying as fit as possible is also recommended to help manage the disease.