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Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is a disease characterized by scarring of the lung tissue. As the scars form, the lungs become thickened and stiff, making it difficult for oxygen to get from your lungs to your bloodstream. As a result, the heart, brain and other vital organs don’t get the oxygen they need to function properly and complications like heart failure can occur. To date, there is no cure for pulmonary fibrosis, but with ongoing treatment and lifestyle changes, the disease can be managed more effectively.
Treatment for pulmonary fibrosis includes medication, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation and lung transplant. In addition, getting involved in a clinical trial may give you access to treatment that would otherwise be unavailable.
Because the symptoms of PF may get worse over time, making lifestyle changes early in the course of the disease may help you prevent lung damage from progressing more rapidly.
Pulmonary fibrosis is more common among cigarette smokers. In addition, if you’ve been diagnosed with the disease, continuing to smoke will only make it progress at a much faster rate. To prevent further damage to the lungs, it’s best to avoid all environmental irritants, including secondhand smoke and tobacco smoke. If you smoke, talk to your physician about medications that can help you quit ASAP. In addition, avoid secondhand smoke by not allowing anyone to smoke in your home or in your vehicle.
Breathlessness, one of the most disabling symptoms of lung disease, often causes people with PF to limit their activities. As the disease progresses, simple activities of daily living like bathing or grooming become increasingly difficult. A regular, moderate level of physical activity can help you maintain your strength and lung function, while reducing muscle-fatigue and stress. Strong muscles use oxygen more efficiently. Choose an activity that you enjoy, such as like walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. If exercising on your own is not an option, ask your physician about a formal pulmonary rehabilitation program.
A healthy diet is one that provides you with enough calories to meet your metabolic needs. It should be well-balanced, containing a variety of lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. What’s more, it should be low in saturated fats, trans-fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugar. If you need help with your diet, talk to your physician about getting a referral to a dietician.
Sleep has a number of restorative benefits, including increasing energy and decreasing stress. Try to get at least 8 hours of quality sleep every night.
Sometimes, you need answers that only another person living with the disease can provide. Joining a patient support group allows you to understand how others live and cope with the disease. This way, you won’t feel so alone. Support groups may be available at your local hospital or community center, but more and more, people are joining support groups online. Talk to your physician for more suggestions.
Is your glass half-empty or half-full? Maintaining a positive outlook on life, no matter what, can make all the difference in the world in how you feel. Practicing regular meditation can help you focus more on the positive side of life. If you don’t know how to meditate, purchase a meditation tape until it becomes second nature to you.
Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN
Pulmonary Fibrosis Association. Living with Pulmonary Fibrosis. Updated April, 2013.