What is the diagnosis of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis?

By  ,  National Institute of Health
Jan 10, 2013

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) causes the same kind of scarring and symptoms as some other lung diseases. This makes it hard to diagnose.


Seeking medical help, preferably from a pulmonologist, as soon as you have symptoms is important. A pulmonologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating lung problems.

Your doctor will diagnose IPF based on your medical history, a physical exam, and the results from tests. Tests can help rule out other causes of your symptoms and show how badly your lungs are damaged.

Medical History

Your doctor may ask about:

•    Your age

•    Your history of smoking

•    Things in the air at your job or elsewhere that could irritate your lungs

•    Your hobbies

•    Your history of legal and illegal drug use

•    Other medical conditions that you have

•    Your family's medical history

•    How long you've had symptoms


Diagnostic Tests

No single test can diagnose IPF. Your doctor may recommend several of the following tests.

Chest X Ray

A chest x ray is a painless test that creates a picture of your heart and lungs. It can show shadows that suggest scar tissue. However, many people who have IPF have normal chest x rays at the time they're diagnosed.

High-Resolution Computed Tomography

A high-resolution computed tomography scan, or HRCT scan, is an x ray that provides sharper and more detailed pictures than a standard chest x ray.

HRCT can show scar tissue and how much lung damage you have. This test can help your doctor spot IPF at an early stage or rule it out. It also can help your doctor decide how likely you are to respond to treatment.

Lung Function Tests

Your doctor will do a breathing test called spirometry (spi-ROM-eh-tre) to find out how much lung damage you have. A spirometer is a device that measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs after taking a deep breath. It also measures how fast you can breathe the air out.

If your lungs have a lot of scarring, you will not be able to move a normal amount of air out of them.

Pulse Oximetry

For this test, your doctor attaches a small device to your finger or earlobe. This device measures how much oxygen is in your bloodstream.

Arterial Blood Gas Test

For this test, your doctor takes a small amount of blood from an artery in your arm, usually in your wrist. The blood is then checked for oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

This test is a more accurate way to check the level of oxygen in your bloodstream. Your blood also can be tested to see whether an infection is causing your symptoms.


Skin Test for Tuberculosis

For this test, your doctor injects a small amount of a substance that reacts to tuberculosis (TB) under the top layer of skin on one of your arms. If you have a positive reaction, a small hard lump will develop at the injection site 48 to 72 hours after the test. Th...

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