Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is a disease of the lungs that is characterized by tissue that becomes stiff, thick and scarred. The cause of PF is usually unknown and, in that case, referred to as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. As the tissue in the lungs becomes thicker, the lungs start to lose their ability to provide the bloodstream with oxygen.
While there is currently no cure, there are many different medications and natural supplement treatment options available. The type of treatment you receive for PF will depend on many factors. Each person diagnosed with PF has a unique set of circumstances, and there isn’t any “standard” course of treatment or clinical experiences.
That being said, there are a few common types of medical appointments that people with PF will likely experience. If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with PF, these are the medical professionals you may see on your pulmonary fibrosis journey.
Primary Care Provider
Your primary care provider is usually your first point of contact when you become sick or start noticing symptoms. Pulmonary fibrosis has many symptoms that are similar to other lung diseases, which makes it difficult to diagnose. When you visit your primary care provider with symptoms of PF, they will usually send you to a specialist to confirm your diagnosis. This ensures that you are treated for the right disease and in the best way for your unique condition. Once your diagnosis is established, a respiratory specialist will create a treatment plan to address your specific needs based on your circumstance.
Respirologist and Clinical Professionals
Depending on the severity of your condition and your treatment plan, you may visit a clinic that specializes in treatments of pulmonary diseases. These visits could include an overview of your bloodwork, pulmonary function tests, chest X-rays, six-minute walking tests, oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation.
You will usually spend time talking with your respirologist, who is responsible for checking the health of your respiratory system. You’ll also spend time discussing how you are feeling and any issues or concerns you are experiencing. There may not be a pulmonary clinic where you live, so these appointments could include a drive to the nearest city and possible overnight stays away from home.
Medical Laboratory Professionals
There may be times when you need to book a bloodwork appointment in a lab and go down to have your blood drawn. This might be necessary if additional bloodwork is required outside of your pulmonary clinic appointments, or if your respirologist doesn’t provide in-house bloodwork. If you have several different specialists as part of your healthcare team, they may all request different bloodwork.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation Professionals
If pulmonary rehabilitation is part of your PF treatment plan, you may need to visit a pulmonary rehab center regularly. Your rehab team will often include respiratory therapists, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, exercise specialists and dietitians who will create a personalized program to treat your specific needs. Pulmonary rehabilitation is designed to reduce the symptoms of PF, improve lung function and improve quality of life through a program of education and exercises.
You’ll likely take classes that are offered in a group setting, giving you a chance to meet other people with your condition who can act as a support network. You’ll learn ways to exercise your muscles and your lungs to become stronger and more active, allowing you to do things you enjoy with the people you love.
Depending on your condition and personalized treatment plan, you may need to have regular follow-up visits with medical specialists who follow your status and monitor the progression of your illness. Pulmonary fibrosis can affect more than just a patient’s lungs and the lack of oxygen to the bloodstream can affect other organs, including the brain. Because of the complications that can arise from PF, it is common for multiple doctors and specialists to be involved in the treatment plan.
Additional Support for Pulmonary Fibrosis
The frequency that you visit some or all of these health professionals will depend on your circumstances and illness progression. While visiting medical professionals is essential to your health care, attending support groups can also be highly beneficial. Support groups can supplement the care that your health team provides and help you with additional education and support to improve your quality of life.