How Serious Is Lung Scarring?

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Lung scarring, also known as pulmonary fibrosis, is irreversible, according to the American Lung Association. It can cause breathing difficulties and lead to other medical issues, including collapsed lung and lung cancer. Pulmonary fibrosis patients normally live three to five years after diagnosis.

Scarred lung tissue becomes stiff and thick, making it difficult for oxygen to pass into the bloodstream, explains the American Lung Association. Although the scarring can develop either quickly or slowly, breathing becomes increasingly difficult as time passes. Eventually, breathing becomes difficult even when a person is at rest, and the patient may require supplemental oxygen. Respiratory failure, pulmonary hypertension and heart failure may occur as scarring worsens.

Usually, the cause of pulmonary fibrosis is unknown, notes the American Lung Association. Smoking cigarettes, certain viruses, exposure to environmental contaminants, certain medications and gastroesophageal reflux disease may increase the risk of the disease developing. Heredity also appears to play a role.

In addition to shortness of breath, symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis include a dry, hacking cough, fatigue, weight loss, aching muscles and joints, and clubbing of fingers and toes. Chest X-rays, lung function tests, blood tests, CT scans and lung biopsy are diagnostic tools used to test for pulmonary fibrosis. Doctors may prescribe medications to prevent additional lung scarring from occurring. Oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation and lung transplant are other possible treatments to extend life and make the patient more comfortable, reports the American Lung Association.