Overview and Facts about Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD)
Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is a broad term for a group of over 200 chronic lung disorders that cause inflammation and scarring of the lungs (fibrosis). These diseases all affect the tissue that surrounds the lung’s air sacs, blood vessels, and airways called the interstitium.
ILD can vary from person to person depending on the type and severity. It can progress slowly or worsen quickly, and symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Signs and Symptoms of Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD)
The common link between the different types of ILD is that they all begin with an inflammation. Other symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Dry cough that does not produce phlegm
- Discomfort in the chest
- Labored breathing
- Hemorrhage in the lungs
Causes and Risk Factors of Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD)
Researchers have pinpointed several causes of ILD, including:
- Autoimmune or connective tissue diseases: lupus, scleroderma, or rheumatoid arthritis
- Certain medications: chemotherapy drugs, heart medications, and some antibiotics
- Environmental or occupational pollutants (inhaling inorganic or organic dust, asbestos fibers, and grain dust)
- Family history: a genetic ILD occurs when the disease is passed down among family members.
- Radiation treatment for lung or breast cancer
In some cases, ILDs occur spontaneously and without a known cause (idiopathic).
Tests and Diagnosis of Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD)
Identifying the type of ILD begins with a complete medical history and physical examination, and tests may include:
- Pulmonary function tests
- Chest X-rays
- Blood tests
- High-resolution computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)
- Bronchoscopy: a procedure that looks inside the lung airways
- Bronchoalveolar lavage: a procedure in which cells from the lower respiratory tract are removed to help identify inflammation and exclude certain causes
- Lung biopsy to further identify the type of ILD
Treatment and Care for Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD)
Treatment depends on several factors, including the type of ILD, the severity of the disease, and the age and health of the patient. Under the direction of a specialist in pulmonology and critical care, treatment may include:
- Medications to reduce inflammation and/or fibrosis
- Immune-suppressing drugs to help stop the immune system attacks that damage the lungs
- Supplemental oxygen to raise the blood’s oxygen levels to help make breathing easier
- Pulmonary rehabilitation to improve lung fitness
In people with severe cases of ILD and when other conservative treatments are not effective, a lung transplant can help prolong their lives.