Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic and progressive lung disease that causes scarring in the walls of the air sacs and other tissues inside the lungs. Over a period of time, this scar tissue starts thickening and makes it difficult to breathe. This condition worsens over time, and as there is currently no cure for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, you will need to manage your condition with medications and other treatment options. There is no one treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and you will have to manage with both drugs and therapy, especially pulmonary rehabilitation. But can pulmonary rehabilitation help in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis? Let’s take a look.
What is Pulmonary Rehabilitation?
Pulmonary rehabilitation, commonly referred to only as PR, is not a single treatment. (1,2,3) It is an umbrella term used to refer to a treatment program that is structured to help people live with chronic lung diseases.(4,5) Pulmonary rehabilitation aims to improve lung function, decrease the severity of their symptoms, and allows them to enjoy a better quality of life while living with their conditions. The overall goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is to reduce the severity of the breathlessness as much as possible while the person goes about doing their day to day activities, and to also increase their energy and exercise levels. Pulmonary rehabilitation is often recommended, along with medications, for the treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.(6,7)
Pulmonary rehabilitation is made up of various components, including:
- Patient education
- Nutrition counseling
- Exercise and conditioning training
- Learning techniques for energy conservation
- Mental and emotional support
- Breathing training
If you need pulmonary rehabilitation, it will take place with other patients in a hospital or outpatient clinic, but only as an outpatient. Pulmonary rehabilitation usually takes place in a group setting because this is believed to help you build a support network with others who also have the same condition as you. It is also meant to strengthen and improve your lung function.(8,9)
Pulmonary rehabilitation can help people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in many ways. Here are some of the ways in which pulmonary rehabilitation can help in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation Teaches You New Breathing Techniques
One of the biggest challenges of having idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is the inability to be able to breathe in the usual way you used to before your diagnosis. Pulmonary rehabilitation is designed to help people with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis learn different breathing techniques that help make them more comfortable.
These breathing techniques are designed to help you take in more oxygen. This may help prevent further scarring of the lung tissue and other complications of the disease. They will also help you build more endurance in order to exercise for a longer time and more regularly.(10)
Helps You Maintain An Active Lifestyle
Since it gets more and more challenging to breathe as the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis progresses. This means that you won’t be able to exercise as much as you need to. When you first start pulmonary rehabilitation therapy, your doctors will run tests to measure your exercising capabilities and level of overall fitness. Your therapist may also measure your muscle mass to find out how capable you are of exercising.
Once your pulmonary rehabilitation therapist has all the necessary information, they will recommend certain exercise routines to help you increase your overall fitness and exercising capabilities. Your therapist is also going to help you learn how to breathe correctly during these exercising routines so that you don’t tire yourself out too quickly. If they determine that you have low oxygen levels, then you will first need to undergo oxygen therapy, which is also a part of pulmonary rehabilitation.(11)
Pulmonary Rehabilitation Helps You Plan Your Diet
A lot of getting better from any medical condition depends on what you eat. Your pulmonary rehabilitation therapy team is going to include a nutritionist or dietitian as well.(12) Breathing problems combined with the loss of appetite makes it difficult to eat what you like when you have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Due to this, you are also likely to lose weight. Weight loss caused by a lack of eating is going to impact your health adversely as it depletes your body of many essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that it needs to keep functioning.
On the other hand, if you are overweight or obese, it will only increase your breathing problems.
During pulmonary rehabilitation, your nutritionist will work with you to ensure that you are getting all the essential nutrients you need, and they will also help design meal plans and diet strategies to make sure you are able to eat what you want to.
You will be able to increase your energy levels With the Help of Pulmonary Rehabilitation
It is common to experience fatigue when you have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, probably because of your inability to eat and exercise. It could also be due to depression and anxiety. Pulmonary rehabilitation ensures that you exercise, eat a healthy diet, and learn how to take better care of yourself while managing the breathing difficulties of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. All these improvements also help increase your energy levels.
Over a period of time, the effort you put into pulmonary rehabilitation helps you find the energy to do the things you enjoyed doing.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation May Help Reduce Stress And Help You Cope
Being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is going to be a stressful experience. You may even go on to experience depression and anxiety. Pulmonary rehabilitation therapy also helps address your mental health concerns as there is a mental health professional who will work with you during this time. They will work together with you to ensure that your day to day activities do not make a negative impact on your emotional health and well-being.
Working with a mental health professional along with the changes you make during pulmonary rehabilitation with your diet and exercise, will help reduce anxiety and depression. You will also learn new coping skills to help you manage your stress and keep it under control.(13)
All the different methods used during pulmonary rehabilitation is used to help improve the symptoms of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Teaching new breathing techniques will be the priority, along with other factors such as nutrition and stress management. Learning how to cope with all these factors better will help increase your body’s ability to fight off the disease. However, remember that pulmonary rehabilitation might not directly improve your lung function. Still, it will help you increase the power of your lungs to make the most of its current capacity, resulting in lesser breathing problems and reducing other symptoms such as dry cough.
The many benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation in dealing with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis are undisputable, but remember that it cannot replace your medical treatment. Your medical treatment has to work together with pulmonary rehabilitation to help you manage the symptoms of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and improve the quality of your life.
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