Acute exacerbations in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Respir Res. 2013 Aug 21;14(1):86. doi: 10.1186/1465-9921-14-86.


Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic, fibrosing interstitial lung disease that primarily affects older adults. Median survival after diagnosis is 2-3 years. The clinical course of IPF may include periods of acute deterioration in respiratory function, which are termed acute exacerbations of IPF (AEx-IPF) when a cause cannot be identified. AEx-IPF may represent a sudden acceleration of the underlying disease process of IPF, or a biologically distinct pathological process that is clinically undiagnosed. An AEx-IPF can occur at any time during the course of IPF and may be the presenting manifestation. The incidence of AEx-IPF is hard to establish due to variation in the methodology used to assess AEx-IPF in different studies, but AEx-IPF are believed to occur in between 5 and 10% of patients with IPF every year. Risk factors for AEx-IPF are unclear, but there is evidence that poorer lung function increases the risk of an AEx-IPF and reduces the chances of a patient surviving an AEx-IPF. The presence of comorbidities such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and pulmonary hypertension may also increase the risk of an AEx-IPF. AEx-IPF are associated with high morbidity and mortality. Patients who experience an AEx-IPF show a worsened prognosis and AEx-IPF are believed to reflect disease progression in IPF. Current treatments for AEx-IPF have only limited data to support their effectiveness. The latest international treatment guidelines state that supportive care remains the mainstay of treatment for AEx-IPF, but also give a weak recommendation for the treatment of the majority of patients with AEx-IPF with corticosteroids. There is emerging evidence from clinical trials of investigational therapies that chronic treatment of IPF may reduce the incidence of AEx-IPF. Additional clinical trials investigating this are underway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Humans
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / epidemiology
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / physiopathology*
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / therapy*