Any form of chronic lung disease is a debilitating affliction. Chronic lung diseases are known to dramatically change the quality of one's life, impact their energy levels, and sometimes, even impact their appearance. Respiratory illnesses are a growing concern around the world. Research has shown that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is one of the most prevalent lung diseases in the world. Pulmonary fibrosis is a less common, but equally fatal lung disease that affects many people around the world. While you can get both these diseases at the same time, the two conditions are drastically different and that too in a variety of ways. Both idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and COPD are known to cause shortness of breath, but what is lesser known is that both these conditions can cause physical damage to your lungs, albeit in different ways. Let's take a look at how these two chronic and disabling lung diseases differ from each other and what similarities do they have.

Advertisement

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) vs. COPD

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) vs. COPD: What Are These Conditions About?

We already know that idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and COPD are both chronic lung diseases that cause shortness of breath in the affected individual. Both these conditions can physically damage your lungs but in different ways.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)

When you suffer from IPF, your lungs become thick, stiff, and scarred. The damage that happens as the condition progresses is not reversible. IPF can benefit from an early diagnosis.

IPF typically has a very poor diagnosis and only has an average survival time of 2 to 3 years after the initial diagnosis.

COPD

When you suffer from COPD, the effect is on the airways and air sacs in your lungs. These airways and air sacs become blocked. The main difference from IPF in COPD is that you can control these symptoms even when you have advanced stages of COPD. There are two forms of COPD;

An individual suffering from COPD will benefit from an early diagnosis, similar to IPF. Unlike idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), though, COPD is treatable and you will experience better results from your treatment is the condition is caught early on. The survival time for COPD varies depending on the severity of your disease, and also on your overall health and whether or not you have a history of smoking.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) vs. COPD: Major Differences

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)

IPF generally means 'scarring of the lungs'. It is known to permanently scar the lungs of the patients. The condition is typically characterized by an excessive build-up of scar tissue that causes the walls of the lungs to thicken. This can cause a reduction in oxygen supply to the bloodstream, causing shortness of breath.

Advertisement

One of the key differences between COPD and IPF is that idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is relatively difficult to diagnose as compared to COPD.

Unlike COPD, IPF is also not always caused by smoke or inhalation of other harmful pollutants. In some cases, in fact, it has been seen that the condition occurs as a result of a genetic predisposition to the condition.

COPD

COPD encompasses many obstructive lung conditions such as:

Since COPD is an obstructive lung disease, it is typically characterized by inflammation in the lungs and airways, dilation of the airways, and poor airflow. The condition is known to worsen over a period of time if left untreated. COPD also occurs as a direct result of inhaling smoke or other harmful particles. The breathing is obstructed because of a concurrence of emphysema and inflammation of the airways.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) vs. COPD: Differences Cased on Causes

The cause of IPF remains unknown and even the future course of the disease remains unpredictable. On the other hand, COPD is primarily caused by smoking or inhalation of pollutants over a period of time. Due to so many unknown factors associated with IPF, the condition often does not get diagnosed until the time permanent lung scarring has already happened.

In the case of COPD, the condition does not get diagnosed until the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage as in the starting COPD has only mild symptoms.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) vs. COPD: Differences Based on Symptoms

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)

  • Chronic cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite and rapid weight loss
  • Discomfort in chest

Advertisement

COPD

IPF vs. COPD: Differences Based on Risk Factors

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)

Even though the exact cause of IPF remains unknown, there are many risk factors that are associated with the condition. These include:

  • Age - Majority of the patients having IPF are more than 60 years old at the time of diagnosis
  • Smoking
  • Gender - Men are more often diagnosed with IPF
  • Occupations that involve exposure to dust, fumes, or chemicals - Evidence suggests that hairdressers, ranchers, farmers, and stonecutters are at a higher risk of having IPF
    Family history - Genes are thought to play a role in developing idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)
  • Medications - Certain medications including chemotherapy drugs such as cyclophosphamide, bleomycin, and methotrexate, as well as some antibiotics and heart medications are known to increase the risk of developing IPF.
  • Radiation treatments focusing on the chest - Radiation therapy that happens near the chest, for example, radiation for treating lung or breast cancer, can cause scar tissue to develop in the lungs.

COPD

There are many risk factors for COPD that are similar to IPF. Risk factors for developing COPD include:

  • Age - It has been observed that most people notice the first symptoms of COPD when they are about 40 years old.
  • Smoking - Smoking is known to be the biggest risk factor for COPD. Nearly 90% of all COPD cases are caused due to long-term smoking. This also includes pipe, cigarette, or marijuana smokers. Even exposure to second-hand smoke over a long time can pose a risk of COPD.
  • Asthma - People who have asthma and are known to be regular smokers are at an increased risk of COPD.
  • Occupations involving exposure to dust, fumes, and chemicals
  • Gender - Women are more susceptible to having lung damage from smoke. However, women nonsmokers are actually at a higher risk of COPD.
  • Genetics - There is a rare genetic disorder that is responsible for just one percent of COPD cases. It is suspected that there are other genetic factors involved in developing COPD.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) vs. COPD: Differences Based on Prevalence Statistics

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)

IPF is known to be a rare disease and it generally affects only about 5 million people worldwide. Since IPF is a rare condition, unlike COPD, it is only ranked as the 7th leading cause of death in the US.

COPD

COPD is a common problem and is also considered to be a major medical problem in cities around the world that are battling with air pollution. Nearly 600 million people worldwide suffer from COPD. COPD is also known to be the third biggest cause of death in the US.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) vs. COPD: Differences Based on Treatment Options

There is no cure for either COPD or IPF as of today. There are, however, many treatment options available for reducing and managing the symptoms.

One of the first steps of treatment for both these conditions is that if you are in the habit of smoking, you need to quit smoking immediately. The next immediate step you need to take is to remove any air pollutants from your workplace or home environment. You can consider using an air purifier to help with this.

You should also remain up-to-date on your vaccination schedule so that you do not experience any complications from infections. Vaccinations also avoid flare-ups of both idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and COPD.

Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) vs. COPD: Differences Based on Medications

IPF

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) was treated with the use of anti-inflammatory drugs in the past as it was believed that lung scarring was happening due to inflammation. These medications, obviously, were not effective. Since research has increased in the field of IPF and we now are more aware of what happens in the condition, there are newer drugs for managing IPF. However, the lung scarring in IPF remains irreversible.

COPD

Prescription drugs that provide relief from inflammation of the airways are typically used for COPD treatment. These medications help make it easier to breathe by reducing the inflammation around your airways. These drugs also prevent any complications from developing.

Bronchodilators are also used for both these conditions as they help relax the muscles of the airways, making it easier to breathe. These drugs can either be used with an inhaler or can also be combined with inhaled steroids.

Sometimes, oral steroids may be prescribed for the short-term.

Conclusion

Both idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and COPD and IPF can be life-threatening conditions that cause severe physical and emotional challenges and discomfort. Early diagnosis of both the conditions is key to a better outlook. If you are experiencing even the slightest symptom of either COPD or IPF, it is necessary that you get screened. Once you have been diagnosed, it is important that you follow your treatment plan and take the prescribed medications on time so that you are able to manage your symptoms.

Research is ongoing on both COPD and IPF and it is likely that there will be newer and more advanced medications available soon that may actually prevent these diseases.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: February 27, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

Advertisement

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

We'll help you live each day to the healthiest