According to the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, pulmonary fibrosis is often misdiagnosed. In fact, the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation estimates that more than half of all patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) were initially misdiagnosed. Here’s a look at why this is, along with how a diagnosis is made.
Both sources point out several reasons why diagnosis is difficult:
• This health issue is quite rare compared to other respiratory conditions. For example, the Perelman School of Medicine states that 20 million Americans are affected by asthma, but only 200,000 patients have been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.
• Non-specific symptoms mimic those of other more common diseases, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
• Lack of knowledge about the disease and its progression lead to misdiagnosis.
• The difference between IPF and other forms of the disease are difficult to distinguish. While IPF is essentially untreatable, other types of this disease often respond better to therapy. Even though it’s uncommon to diagnose any type of fibrosis other than IPF, it’s important to make the distinction if possible.
How Is a Diagnosis Made?
The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation identifies the most common diagnosis assessments:
• Medical history investigation and physical exam to pinpoint causes for the disease
• Chest x-ray as part of a screening test
• High-Resolution Computerized Tomography (HRCT) for a detailed look at your lungs
• Pulmonary function test to measure your breathing output
• Pulse oximeter or Arterial Blood Gas (ABG) test to measure oxygen in your blood
• Surgical lung biopsy, the standard for diagnosing pulmonary fibrosis
• Bronchoscopy to examine your lungs’ main airways
• Bronchoalveolar Lavage (BAL) so a sample of lung cells can be examined
• Exercise testing to measure lung function during exertion
• Esophogram to identify or rule out gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
• Echocardiogram (ECHO) so the doctor can examine your heart and screen for pulmonary hypertension
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Photo Credit: Adrian Clark