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Autoimmune Lung Disease: Why Early Detection Is Important

Medical Daily logo Medical Daily 6/29/2020 Seema Prasad

An autoimmune disease occurs when the body is attacked by its immune system since it perceives the body’s tissues as foreign invaders. Popular autoimmune diseases include celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), type 1 diabetes, lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In the long term, autoimmune diseases are known to have an impact on either one or more organs.

About 10 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis could suffer consequences in their lungs, especially after they experience the common symptom breathlessness. The disease that affects joints could progress to symptomatic lung disease.The two main features of the disease are inflammation and scarring, which make it difficult for the lungs to draw oxygen.

But it isn't just rheumatoid arthritis since other autoimmune diseases can cause interstitial lung disease (ILD). Like in the case of all autoimmune diseases, the lungs are attacked by the faulty immune system. Eventually, lung function becomes impaired in such people who will have difficulty breathing. Autoimmune lung diseases can also be accompanied by bronchiectasis and lung nodules.

There are several causes behind ILD’s development. Genetic markers, autoimmune disease, cigarette smoking and air pollution exposure are a few causes among them. The direct causes may never be known, however, the condition that leads to 100 chronic lung disorders is irreversible and manageable at best. Symptoms include shortness of breath, dry cough, painful muscles and joints, sudden weight loss, fatigue and clubbing together of toes or fingers. 

Early Diagnosis And Treatment

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On average, the life expectancy of those with autoimmune lung disease is in the range of three to five years. However, it depends on which stage the disease was diagnosed at. If you have a mild version of autoimmune lung disease, then the prognosis is generally five or more years with proper disease management. In the moderate level of the disease, a person could live between three and five or more years with intensive treatment. In severe cases, they can survive for only three or more years. 

There are many ways to diagnose lung disease. They are blood tests, CT scan, chest X-rays, spirometry, bronchoscopy, bronchoalveolar lavage and lung biopsy. Before scarring develops and if caught early on, anti-inflammatory agents could help better the condition. The earlier the diagnosis, the more the person could respond to anti-inflammatory medication such as corticosteroids.

The scarring of the lungs is known as pulmonary fibrosis. For people with pulmonary fibrosis, treatment may not work well for them with more chances of negative outcomes such as suffering from disabilities, especially from not being able to breathe properly. They might eventually require lung transplants if nothing else works. 

The disease progresses at a different pace for different people. Doing regular checkups with a pulmonologist could help monitor lung health frequently. Medications approved by the FDA include pirfenidone (Esbriet) and nintedanib (Ofev), both which cannot reverse the disease but can surely help manage it.  

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