How to Diagnose Interstitial Lung Diseases
Interstitium is a tissue that separates and surrounds the alveolae found in the lungs. Interstitial lung diseases refer to the inflammation of the interstitium in the lungs. These diseases are a group of disorders that cause progressive scarring of the lung tissue that in turn affects the ability to breathe properly and to get the required amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. Lung scarring is irreversible and the medications that are given only slow down the damage process. The scarring and inflammation of the interstitium is caused by the following factors;
- toxins like silica dust and asbestos in the environment
- certain medications that tend to affect the lungs
- lung infections
- chronic autoimmune diseases
- chest radio therapy
If diagnosed early, the damage caused by the interstitial diseases can be averted or reduced. The following are ways in which interstitial diseases can be diagnosed.
In some cases, a qualified and specialized doctor can diagnose interstitial lung diseases by identifying the symptoms. The symptoms of the interstitial lung diseases include;
- reduced breathing efficiency
- reduced oxygen levels in the blood
- shortness of breath
- dry cough
- enlargement of the heart
- enlargement of fingertips that is usually painless
Lung tissue analysis
Often, a lung tissue analysis is used to definitely diagnose the interstitial lung diseases. This involves obtaining a small lung tissue for testing. The lung tissue is obtained in the following ways;
- Surgical biopsy: this is the best way to obtain a good amount of tissue for the best diagnosis. It involves the insertion of a small camera and surgical equipments via three small incisions that are between the ribs. The surgeon is able to view your lungs on a video monitor. However, this procedure can result to complications.
- Bronchoscopy: this involves the removal of small lung tissues using a broncho-scope that is usually passed to the lungs via the nose or mouth. The tissue from this procedure may be too tiny to give accurate results. This procedure may cause side effects like hoarseness and sore throat.
- Bronchoalveolar lavage: this involves the obtaining of air sac cells through passing salty water to a section of the lungs via a broncho-scope and removing it immediately. The salty water solution contains air sac cells.
Pulmonary function tests
- Exercise stress test: this exercise monitors the functioning of the lung when an individual is active.
- Spirometry: this involves quick and forceful exhaling through a tube that is connected to a machine that is used to measure the amount of air that the lungs can hold and the speed of moving the air out of the lungs.
- Oximetry: it is a simple test that measures the levels of oxygen saturation that is in the blood using a small device that is placed on the fingers. It is sometimes better than X-ray and is mainly used to track the interstitial lung diseases.
- Echocardiogram: echocardiogram is the use of sound waves to visualize the heart. It shows still images of the heart's structure and the heart's functioning and evaluates the amount of pressure on the right side of the heart.
- Chest X-ray: lung damages that are caused by the interstitial lung diseases can be seen in characteristic patterns when a chest X-ray is conducted. Chest X-ray is used in tracking the progress of the disease.
- Computerized tomography (CT): this is the use of a computer to combine the different X-ray images that are taken from different angles so as to get cross-sectional images of the internal structures. A high resolution CT scan is used to determine the damage caused by the interstitial lung diseases.
The interstitial lung diseases are irreversible and there is no treatment for the diseases currently. However, some treatments are administered to improve the symptoms, quality of life and delay the progression of the diseases. These medications include;
- Oxygen therapy: involves using oxygen to reduce the blood pressure in the right heart side, make breathing and exercise easier, improve the quality of life and reduce the complications that result from low blood oxygen levels.
- Surgery: people with severe interstitial lung diseases may opt for lung transplant if all other treatments do not trigger improvement.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation: it is aimed at improving the daily functioning and life of the patient. It focuses on emotional support, nutritional counseling, improving endurance through physical exercise and adopting breathing techniques that improve lung efficiency.
- Medication: cases of interstitial lung diseases have been treated using prednisone that is sometimes combined with other drugs like methotrexate or cyclosporine that are meant to suppress the immune system.
- The treatment to be administered depends on the cause of the interstitial lung diseases
- Diagnosis of the interstitial lung diseases should include a detailed history of the patients exposure and general health
- Disability in the interstitial lung disease patients is mainly caused by chronic non malignant pain
- High resolution CT scans and pulmonary functioning tests are the best monitoring and diagnosis procedures.
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