Pulmonary fibrosis (PULL-mun-ary fi-BRO-sis) is a disease in which tissue deep in your lungs becomes thick and stiff, or scarred, over time. The formation of scar tissue is called fibrosis.
As the lung tissue thickens, your lungs can’t properly move oxygen into your bloodstream. As a result, your brain and other organs don’t get the oxygen they need. (For more information, go to the “How the Lungs Work” section of this article.)
Sometimes doctors can find out what’s causing fibrosis. But in most cases, they can’t find a cause. They call these cases idiopathic (id-ee-o-PATH-ick) pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).
IPF is a serious disease that usually affects middle-aged and older adults. IPF varies from person to person. In some people, fibrosis happens quickly. In others, the process is much slower. In some people, the disease stays the same for years.
IPF has no cure yet. Many people live only about 3 to 5 years after diagnosis. The most common cause of death related to IPF is respiratory failure. Other causes of death include pulmonary hypertension (HI-per-TEN-shun), heart failure, pulmonary embolism (EM-bo-lizm), pneumonia (nu-MO-ne-ah), and lung cancer.
Genetics may play a role in causing IPF. If more than one member of your family has IPF, the disease is called familial IPF.
Research has helped doctors learn more about IPF. As a result, they can more quickly diagnose the disease now than in the past. Also, researchers are studying several medicines that may slow the progress of IPF. These efforts may improve the lifespan and quality of life for people who have the disease.