Interstitial lung disease (ILD) is not a single disease, but a cluster of different diseases. All of them show the same presentation-thickening of the interstitium (the tissue and space lining the air sacs). Interstitium is a very thin, lacy structure that runs all over the lungs. It is so thin that it is not normally visible in an x-ray or CT scan. This network acts as a protection for the air sacs. They facilitate the exchange of gases between the lungs and blood. This normal functioning of the air sacs gets impaired due to the thickening of their tissue. The thickening of the tissue results due to scarring, inflammation or edema (fluid collection). Normally, our body produces just the exact amount of tissue for healing in response to any injury. However, if this process gets affected, too much tissue is formed, which then covers the entire lung and forms a thick scar over the lung. As a result, one faces difficulty in inspiration of the air and hence the lungs cannot expand fully. Therefore, the person experiences shortness of breath and persistent dry cough, as a consequence of troubled breathing. The other parts of the lungs like airways and blood vessels can also get affected.
Is Interstitial Lung Disease Cancer?
There is a link speculated between the interstitial lung disease and cancer. However, the studies are still going on to decisively state a connection between ILD and lung cancer. Presence of some factors of pulmonary fibrosis is similar to pathogenic mechanisms followed by cancer cells, like cellular immortality, unlimited cellular multiplication and quick movement or immigration in the body, is very similar to the metastasis in cancer. Hence, the studies are going on to see the possible connection between interstitial lung disease and lung cancer. However, it cannot be said that interstitial lung disease is cancer. There is not enough evidence to ascertain this conclusion.
Interstitial lung disease is a restrictive lung disease. The thickening and scarring of the tissue of the lungs is an irreversible process and a cure to this condition has not been established till date. However, with early diagnosis and efficient and prompt treatment, the progress rate of the disease can be brought down, thus helping the person to breathe more easily and thereby improving the quality of life.
The Signs and Symptoms of Interstitial Lung Disease
There are a few common signs and symptoms seen in all diseases that come under the cover of ILD. Interstitial is the common structure that is affected in all interstitial lung diseases. However, other signs and symptoms will vary according to what other organs and structures are affected apart from the interstitium. Also, the signs and symptoms will vary from person to person. The common signs and symptoms seen in all ILDs are shortness of breath and a persistent dry cough. As interstitial lung disease is a restrictive disease (it restricts the air from entering the airways), this results in reduced oxygen levels in the body. As a result, there is shortness of breath and person feels as if one is not getting enough of the air in his lungs. Because of this there is troubled and labored breathing all the time. This causes excess fatigue and tiredness in the person. This symptom is seen more when the person tries to do some sort of exercise like climbing the stairs etc. The symptoms keep worsening and eventually the person is seen taking troubled breaths even at rest.
The persistent cough that is dry and kind of hacking in nature, is also a result of this troubled breathing and laborious inspiration of air. As a person tries to take in more and more air but is unable to do so because of the scarred air sacs, it results in a coughing episode. This continues as the condition worsens and breathing becomes more and more difficult.
There can be unwanted weight loss, as the person eventually is unable to eat and therefore, does not get ample nutrition.
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