Approach to acute exacerbation of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Ann Thorac Med. 2013 Apr;8(2):71-7. doi: 10.4103/1817-1737.109815.


Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic interstitial pneumonia with a median survival of 3 years after diagnosis. Acute exacerbation of IPF (AE-IPF) is now identified as a life-threatening complication. It presents as worsening dyspnea with new ground glass opacities superimposed upon a radiographic usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP) pattern. It is a diagnosis of exclusion. The prognosis of AE-IPF is poor and treatment strategies lack standardization. In order to rule out any reversible etiology for an acute decompensation of a previously stable IPF patient diagnostic modalities include computerized tomographic angiogram (CTA) coupled with high-resolution computerized tomography (HRCT) imaging of the chest, bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) and echocardiogram with bubble study. Avoiding risk factors, identifying underlying causes and supportive care are the mainstays of treatment. Anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant medications have not shown to improve survival in AE-IPF. Most of the patients are managed in a critical care setting with mechanical ventilation. Lung transplantation is a promising option but most institutions are not equipped and not every patient is a candidate.

Keywords: Acute exacerbation of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; bronchoalveolar lavage; chest roentgenogram; computerized tomographic angiogram; high resolution computer tomography; idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; usual interstitial pneumonia.